Lee solar arrays could save town $1.5M

Monday April 16, 2012

LEE -- Local taxpayers could save more than $1.5 million from a proposed solar energy project designed to help power Lee's municipal buildings.

Town officials have reached a tentative deal with a Boston company to construct, own and maintain three solar arrays on town-owned property. The plan calls for Broadway Electric Inc. to spend $11.8 million to install the solar panels, which are expected to generate three megawatts of electricity that will be sold to the town.

Broadway is the same firm looking to build a $16.7 million municipal solar energy project in Lenox.

If approved at the Lee Annual Town Meeting next month, the project could result in a $65,000 savings the first year; $1.57 million for the life of the town's pending 20-year purchase agreement with Broadway, according Thomas Wickham, chairman of the Lee Energy Efficiency Committee.

Town and Broadway officials will review the proposal as part of public meeting on Thursday to discuss all the articles expected to be on the town meeting warrant on May 10.

The committee negotiated the contract on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, who are looking to reduce the town's $452,000 annual electric bill it pays to Western Massachusetts Electric Co. -- the two public schools and wastewater treatment plant account for two-thirds of those costs.

"We will earn energy credits [from WMECO], with the money saved going to help pay other bills," said committee Chairman Thomas Wickham.

Broadway would initially sell the electricity to the town at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour, gradually increasing to 9.8 cents/kWh during the 20-year period, Wickham said.

The proposal calls for solar arrays installed at the former landfill, wastewater treatment plant on Route 102 and on three acres of a 171-acre parcel off Stockbridge Road. The town property was once targeted for a municipal golf course nearly 20 years ago.

Of the three proposed sites, the one off Stockbridge Road -- a major secondary route between Lee and Stockbridge -- continues to generate the most controversy among some townspeople.

Several residents feel the open space zoned residential/
agricultural should be made available to local farmers.

"This [project] is an excuse for a big business to come into town ... and take over our land," said Deidre "Dee Dee" Consolati at last week's Selectmen's meeting.

Meanwhile, a few people living near the Stockbridge Road location aren't keen on its recreational component. In addition to the solar array facing the Massachusetts Turn pike, Broadway would build three youth soccer fields on roughly three acres of the town property. They would replace the ones being displaced by the solar array at the sewer plant on Route 102.

Several neighbors fear relocating the soccer fields to the 171-acre site will open it up to additional recreational use.

The Selectmen asked Wick ham if the project could survive minus the Stockbridge Road site.

"There's really no way to take out one (part) without affecting the rest," he said. "They are all tied together."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.

Ray of sunshine ...

-- A Boston company is offering to build a $11.8 million solar energy project in Lee to help power the community's municipal buildings.

-- The town has a proposed 20-year purchase agreement with Broadway Electric Inc. to buy the electricity generated by the solar arrays to be installed on three town-owned parcels.

-- Projected savings on the town's electricity bill is $65,000 the first year, a total of $1.57 for the 20-year period.

-- The proposal will be reviewed at a public meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Lee Middle and High School. The project needs approval from the Annual Town Meeting on May 10.


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