Rays to save: Solar project in Williamstown hopes to save big on power costs


WILLIAMSTOWN — Just as the cost of building a new high school will be ratcheting up tax rates in the Mount Greylock Regional School District, a solar installation will provide power for local schools at a dramatically discounted price.

A previously delayed project was rescued when Williams College and Williamstown partnered to complete the 1.9-megawatt solar farm and begin producing power for use at all municipal facilities — including schools — by Jan. 1, 2017.

According to Town Manager Jason Hoch, the actual cost of the power is still under negotiation, but the savings to the town will be significant — "in the tens of thousands of dollars annually."

Williams College has dedicated $6 million to the roughly $8 million project. According to college officials, an "equity partner" is being sought to invest the other $2 million, in exchange for solar power tax credits that would be sold to third-party investors.

During the coming months, more than 6,000 solar panels will be installed over about seven acres of the capped landfill off Simonds Road (Route 7), adjacent to the transfer station.

The town began using the site as a landfill in 1973. Nearly 20 years later, landfill operations at the site were closed. With state Department of Environmental Protection oversight, the landfill was capped and received a closure certificate report in 1996.

A previous version of this project, which was designed and would have been built through a private developer, fell apart last year due to unforeseen costs of upgrading a National Grid substation to handle the power load. It was further delayed by state-imposed net-metering caps, said Hoch.

"We had reached a point where the installation as originally planned was no longer financially viable and faced the difficult prospect of abandoning the project altogether," Hoch said. "Williams' interest came at precisely the right time to allow us to proceed with this important solar facility that will benefit all of Williamstown."

Williams College will not use any of the power generated by the solar farm, noted Mary Dettloff, director of media relations at the college. And because the school is a nonprofit, it can't use any of the solar energy tax credits.

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In addition, the college will pay the town $1 per year to lease the land, and pay $29,000 annually in accordance to the structured tax agreement on the value of the solar equipment.

The town will pay the discounted rate to an account that will be used to pay for the cost of the operation of the solar facility and to pay back the college's investment. The farm has an expected life span of at least 20 years.

The green energy generated will be used to power street lights, the town's fire station, police headquarters, town hall, the town garage and all the public schools.

The discounted clean power will provide both savings and price stability to the town's energy budget by locking in a long-term price for electricity at less than half the price the town currently pays. The town will also receive at least 20 years of structured property tax revenue from the landfill, a property that otherwise generates no tax revenue for the community.

"We're delighted to partner with Williamstown in restarting this solar project," said Williams President Adam Falk. "As the college moves forward with a wide-ranging set of initiatives to help address the global climate change crisis, we're pleased to be able to invest in renewable energy right in our own community."

EOS Ventures of Hancock has been selected by the college to serve as development consultants for the project. With substantial experience in developing and financing renewable energy projects throughout the region, EOS will undertake full oversight of all development and construction activities associated with the project, including permitting, interconnecting with National Grid, and sourcing contractors and materials, Dettloff said.

According to Tyler Fairbank, CEO of EOS Ventures, Lanesborough-based Gable Electric will construct the array. Work is expected to begin in mid-August with completion anticipated in two to three months.

"We're using an experienced local contractor to do a project that is going to benefit the town, the college, the tax payers and the environment," Fairbank said.

Dettloff said the arrangement between the college, the town and EOS Ventures is a unique approach.

"This was a really creative way of doing this," she said. "We couldn't find another doing anything like this."


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