Who would have dared to imagine two years ago when Great Barrington began the process of becoming a state-designated Green Community, adopting strict energy-saving building codes — both for its own facilities and for new construction — and pledging to make its vehicle fleet more fuel efficient that it would some day become the major source for solar-generated electricity for two school districts as well as for the town?
If Kirt Mayland’s Housatonic Solar Project achieves its objectives, however, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District (BHRSD), the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, and the town of Great Barrington would become the beneficiaries, with significant savings on the cost of electricity.
At least, that is the prospect Mayland offered to Great Barrington Select Board members April 28 during an update on his proposal to create 23-acres of solar fields on two parcels in Housatonic: the first on a abandoned gravel pit west of Van Deusenville Road and the other on a 26-acre former landfill – a Department of Environmental Protection brownfields site — situated within a 65-acre parcel south of the former Rising Paper mill along the Housatonic River.
“I met with Kirt a month ago to discuss the district purchasing most of our power needs from the Housatonic Solar Power project,” affirmed BHRSD facilities director Steve Soule by e-mail. “It is an exciting opportunity for the district to be involved in with regard to both the environmental and educational perspectives, and there will be significant financial savings associated with the opportunity. I look forward to working with Kirt as the project unfolds.”
But in order to take advantage of the Net Metering Credit program that will be available when the Legislature increases the cap on the number of net metering programs later this month, Housatonic Solar needs the town to agree to be a “host” customer.
Eligiblity for net metering credits would enable Housatonic Solar to provide electricity at substantial discounts to its customers.
“Being the Host does not imply an ownership or other responsibilities with respect to facility ownership, operation or maintenance, nor does it carry any financial or liability consequences,” Mayland stated in an summary presented to the board.
“There’s no liability for the town,” he insisted. “In effect, you become a ‘ghost’ host. And we need your agreement within a month so that we can be there the moment the state lifts the cap on the number of metering credit programs. They’re snapped up quickly.”
Beyond the savings in electricity for the town and school district, Mayland pointed out that “this is a $7 million project. There should be enough power for Great Barrington and the school districts, and for 400 to 500 homes,” he said. “And we do pay property taxes. We’re not looking for an abatement but a long-term agreement.”
Besides the Host Customer agreement, Housatonic Solar will also need a special permit for a solar panel array along the Housatonic River since the land is within a flood plane.
Mayland of Lakeville, Conn., a former lawyer for Trout Unlimited – “a fish lawyer,” he quipped — described the school districts as “very interested” in procuring solar-generated power from the 2-megawatt installation.
He said that his role is to “find beat-up old sites – gravel and sand pits, landfills” rather than land that could be used for agriculture.
The 26-acre brownfields site, Mayland noted, already has National Grid transmissions lines nearby so that it would be convenient for a 14-acre solar array to connect to the electrical network.
Mayland has additional plans for the Rising Pond property, 65 acres in total.
He envisions placing the acreage not designated for the solar field into a conservation restriction that would include a 3,000-foot walking path along the Housatonic River for hikers and fisherman – “a fisherman’s trail,” he called it.
“I can see kids, too, walking around the site to see what is powering their school buildings,” he said. “And we would also install educational kiosks to explain how the solar field works.”
On the second site, the abandoned gravel pit west of Vandeusenville Road, Housatonic Solar intends to erect 9.5 acres of solar panels.
“It’s taken quite a bit of garbage, and we’ll clean it all up,” he said. “There are piles of highway waste, most of which can be ground up. We’ll put the solar panels where the waste was.”
And he predicted that his project is the just beginning of the wave of photovoltaic installations that will be built in the future.
“The state is providing incentives to put solar panels on rooftops, and roofs over parking lots, too,” he said.