Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray tours Easthampton's Oliver Street landfill solar array, now under construction

The Republican

October 21, 2011

EASTHAMPTON – Mayor Michael A. Tautznik led state officials, including Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, on a walking tour of the Oliver Street landfill solar array on Thursday and garnered praise for having the first such project under construction in the state.

The 2.3-megawatt installation is also the largest of those planned and is expected to save residents $1.5 million on power over 10 years.

“This is a great example of Easthampton leading the way for the whole commonwealth,” Murray said. “We really believe we can create a new sector of our economy around clean energy."

Borrego Solar Systems Inc. of Lowell began construction of the 9,620-panel system, which is about 25 percent complete, late last month, project officials said. It is expected to be done by the end of the year and should be connected to the grid in February.

That connection requires the installation of utility poles, which the City Council recently approved after bargaining between residents and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. over the type.

Project manager Joseph Harrison said Easthampton will save about $80,000 on power in the first year. The power can be supplied to up to 500 homes.

Murray praised Tautznik as “a creative, innovative mayor willing to embrace new technology in a way that will benefit taxpayers” and the environment.

“We did this to set the example for the municipal sector,” said Tautznik. “The city’s proud to be the host.”

The $9 million construction won’t cost the city a dime, at least not directly. It is under contract to buy the power at a reduced, fixed rate. In 10 years, the city can extend the deal, ask Borrego to tear down the system, or buy it.

Amherst officials are weighing a capped landfill solar array and Ludlow voters gave selectmen permission to lease the 14-acre town landfill for a photovoltaic system. The Belchertown Planning Board is finalizing a zoning ordinance amendment that would allow large-scale commercial solar panel systems in all zones.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to grow this model,” said Kenneth Kimmell, Commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, who joined Tautznik and Murray on the tour. He said there are about 500 closed landfills in the state and nine communities have solar projects in the permitting phase.

“We’re excited about it. We want to see this continue to grow,” Murray said.

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