Lee and Lenox plan joint solar array to lower town electric bills

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Lee and Lenox hope a privately built solar energy project will help lower their municipal electric bills.

The neighboring towns' boards of selectmen have agreed on a plan to share a 20-year solar energy net meter-credit purchasing agreement if Willow Hill Road LLC builds a 2.6-megawatt solar array near Lee's capped landfill.

Willow Hill, a subsidiary of Energy Management Inc. in Boston, plans to install pole-mounted solar panels on a former landfill owned Schweitzer-Mauduit International. Once the company secures local and state permits, installs the panels and gets the project operational, Lee will take 80 percent of the solar power generated, Lenox the remaining 20 percent, according to municipal officials from both communities.

"The array just about covers our municipal needs," said Lee Selectman Thomas Wickham and chairman of the town's Energy Efficiency Committee.

The joint effort replaces the towns' failed effort to develop their own, separate solar arrays to reduce their dependance on Eversource, formerly named Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

"We'll be taking power from solar, which the town has repeatedly said that it wants to see happen, so we're doing the right thing," said Lenox Selectman Channing Gibson.

Gibson and Wickham commented on the proposal during their respective regular selectmen meetings last week, where each board outlined the project specifics.

Lee, entirely served by Eversource, would save between $478,000 and $525,000 over the 20-year period on the electricity used to power the town's two public school buildings, water and wastewater treatment plants and other municipal facilities.

In Lenox the wastewater treatment plant on Crystal Street in Lenox Dale and the water treatment facility at the town reservoir will yield a total savings of $131,162 during the same time period.

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Town Hall, the two public schools and the remaining municipal buildings in Lenox are powered by National Grid.

"We hope to do a significantly better deal through the National Grid power-purchase agreement," Gibson said, referring to a solar installation being negotiated for the former Lenox landfill on Willow Creek Road.

Lee and Lenox originally wanted to directly develop solar projects tied into the Eversource grid, but the communities balked at apparent high interconnection fees that could have totaled an estimated $1.45 million. Eversource didn't comment on the towns' claim as they hadn't received any municipal solar energy proposals.

Officials in both towns had said the anticipated interconnection fees are based on solar array installers who have bid on the three projects. Interconnection fees pay for the cost of system modifications necessary to safely connect the project to the grid, the utility officials have said.

Lee had been seeking a developer to install solar panels at its capped landfill near a power transformer substation on Woodland Road and at the town's wastewater treatment plant along Route 102. Lenox was also eyeing a solar array for its sewer plant in Lenox.

Earlier this year, the towns' solar energy consultant, Beth Greenblatt, urged Lee and Lenox to broker a deal between Schweitzer and the energy firm that would install solar panels on the site and selling the electricity to both communities. She said the developer would assume all the risk for using the capped landfill — that would include a single interconnection fee.

Lee and Lenox have been trying to jump start a municipal solar energy project since the demise of Broadway Renewable Strategies 18 months ago. The Boston-based firm went belly-up, undoing contracts Lenox had with Broadway totaling $15.7 million to erect solar panels at the sewage treatment plant and former landfill.

Lee hired the energy firm to build solar arrays on three municipal sites costing nearly $12 million. Both projects were expected to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in electricity costs over the next two decades.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.


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