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Heather Bellow
Solar racking being installed Wednesday, November 11, for the Housatonic Solar 1 array that is estimated to save the town of Great Barrington and the Berkshire Hills Regional School District up to $180,000 annually in electricity costs.

Cost-saving Housatonic solar project to go online in January

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By Thursday, Nov 12, 2015 News 6

Housatonic — On a 12-acre muddy brownfield behind the old Rising Paper Mill Company complex next to the Housatonic River, modernity is juxtaposed against the polluted past as a large solar farm is quickly being pieced together, poised to help both the environment and the beleaguered local taxpayer.

Berkshire Hills Regional School District facilities manager Rick Soule, left, and solar energy entrepreneur Kirt Maryland at the Solar 1 site in Housatonic.

Steve Soule, left, Facilities Director at Berkshire Hills Regional School District with solar energy developer Kirt Maryland at the Solar 1 site in Housatonic. Photo: Heather Bellow

It’s also how solar developer Kirt Mayland makes his living. He says his 10,000 solar panels will be ready for action when his $6 million project is completed by the end of November. On January 1 the sun’s energy will hit the local power grid and start saving the Town of Great Barrington and the Berkshire Hills Regional School District somewhere between $70,000 and $90,000 each in annual electricity costs. Both entities signed contracts with Mayland for net metering, a process of buying and selling sustainably derived energy that is distributed to the electric company’s power grid and sold to “off takers” at a considerable discount. In this case it’s National Grid, and they’ve already installed new electric poles near the site to absorb the extra power.

A former environmental attorney and passionate fisherman who once worked for Trout Unlimited, Mayland bought 72 acres that includes the site and land around it for $350,000, and the old ballfield down the road for $150,000. As part of the project, he placed 46 acres into a permanent conservation restriction held by Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC). The remainder will be conservation land. There are plans to improve access to the river and create fishing trails. Mayland gave the old ballfield to BNRC, which Mayland suggested might be a good trailhead for the Flag Rock hiking trail that begins on the other side of Route 183.

The barrier demarcating polluted soils.

The barrier demarcating polluted soils.

The town’s 20-year tax agreement with Mayland’s Housatonic 1 Solar LLC, will also generate $70,000 per year in new property taxes.

Because the former landfill is overseen by MassDEP (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection), the panel foundations and all equipment had to be above ground, though there will be trenching for underground wiring. The panels will be set above flood elevation since the site is in the floodplain.

The land was essentially a private dump, Mayland said, where for years the paper company let people dump trash and household appliances like refrigerators. When the Neenah Paper company acquired it in 2013, the company spent around $1 million to clean it up. The solid waste was removed, but MassDEP doesn’t want the more polluted soils mixing with cleaner soils. A barrier at ground level that stretches across the site shows the division so the construction crews don’t mix the dirt. A licensed site provider (LSP) is on the site almost every day to make sure things are being done right, Mayland said.

“Whenever you work with a brownfield it’s a little scary,” he added, noting that he had to remove contaminated soils. “Seeing the dirt go kind of makes you feel good.”

Turtle and erosion barrier.

Turtle and erosion barrier.

When Mayland was in the process of buying the land, he walked the property with his dog and “noticed garbage sticking out of the riverbanks.” He called BNRC and MassDEP, who helped him sort through various issues, including the soil contamination and the endangered turtle habitat. Low soft fencing was installed as a turtle barrier, and also helps control erosion. While no one has seen any turtles yet, wildlife biologist and ecological consultant Suzanne Fowle is consulting with Mayland at the site to make sure precautions are taken.

The project is mostly a local endeavor. Sheffield’s Joe Wilkinson Excavating is doing site preparations, and all the work will be done by Massachusetts-based companies, Mayland said. He recently developed an old 21-acre sand pit in Sheffield for clean energy investor, Altus Power America. He is getting ready to build another array at the AmeriGas facility on Van Deusenville Rd., also in Housatonic, and one at the Great Barrington Fairground property off Route 7.

Signs with information about endangered turtles at the solar farm, a known turtle habitat. The sign is required by state law.

Signs with information about endangered turtles at the solar farm, a known turtle habitat. The sign is required by state law.

Ed Dunn, Altus’ Project manager for Mayland’s project at Rising Paper, was at the site this week. “It’s a good neighbor,” he said, gesturing to the rows of racking. “It’s quiet and silent and it’s making you money. It’s a win-win for the community and the environment, a secure sanctuary for endangered species. You don’t get that everyday in a neighbor.

“A lot of people complain about wind [turbines],” Dunn adds. “They say not in my backyard with solar. Do you want to go back to the smokestacks? I’d rather look at this. This is the beginning of making America free again.”

Like Dunn, Mayland also says there isn’t a downside. “The community is getting clean energy, $230,000 [annually] in money that was not there before, a lot of conservation land, and public access for fishing and kayaking on the river.”


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6 Comments   Add Comment

  1. GMHeller says:

    It would be informative to know the basis for the whopping $70,000 annual tax bill.
    With such high property taxes, doesn’t this entrepreneur risk getting caught in a cash flow bind should electricity prices drop, or if more solar farms come online locally?
    And also, what happens to the farm’s power generation if weather doesn’t cooperate and South County is beset with longer than usual periods of dank, grey weather?
    Does doom-and-gloom mean less power generation and thus days where the farm’s revenue stream contracts to a trickle?

  2. Jonathan Hankin says:

    GO, KIRT!!!

  3. Ellen Lahr says:

    This is great, very cool story. work on the opposite side of the river, off Van Deusenville, part of the same project. I love this. Who is this guy?? Let’s buy him a beer.

  4. Donna jacobs says:

    I have watched the development of this project: the demolition of what I believed was a biologically diverse tract of natural land directly across the street from my front porch. The “downside” of this project, known only to those of us who live steps away, has been the unrelenting sounds of logging, chipping, back hoe and tractor beeping, seven days a week since last spring. What used to be a wooded area is now an exposed gravel pit of stone and metal that looks like a futuristic space station. At night the area is lit with high intensity lamps that light up the whole backside of Monument Mountain. The peace of the area has been destroyed, a sacrifice that we residents are making for “the greater good” and the price we are paying is the assault suffered on physical and emotional health whenever there is a degradation of the natural, biological environment.
    I am a patient and trusting person and hopeful that plans for this area will restore it to a more natural state to support habitats for the species that used to reside there. I am hopeful that the ballfield, designated as the future “parking lot” will be tasteful and incorporate natural materials, including the grove of pine trees growing there now. I am hopeful that the area will provide residents as well as visitors with opportunities for the kind of rest and restoration that only natural environmentms can provide.

    The reported economic benefits of this project for the town have been inconsistent. Only time will prove the accuracy of the projections. There has also been an inconsistency in the reports of the scope and size of the project– from 12 acres of solar panels to 57 acres. There is always a a price to pay for progress, especially when progress is in technological development. I ask that we approach development with a broader vision, to include a view to the price, the cost, and what we will be required to give up for the gain.

  5. Donna jacobs says:

    To Ed Dunn,
    You are quoted that you’d “rather look at this(solar field)…..Are you saying you have one in your front yard?
    I’d like to invite you to my front yard for a first hand experience if you don’t live where you build.

    How do you think this and your future projects in Housatonic affect the area and its residents? I’d like to see more evidence of environmental and social responsibility.

  6. Michelle Loubert says:

    I’m sitting at my laptop writing this. Meanwhile, since early yesterday morning, there has been some type of drilling going on at the Van Deusenville Road site. CONSTANT noise. It started early Saturday morning, ended around 6 to 7 Saturday night and started again 7:30 this morning. It’s SUNDAY! Shouldn’t residents in the area be able to enjoy their homes at least on a Sunday! In short, this may be solar but it’s generating noise pollution! Even during the Main Street project, residents in the area were given a break from the noise on weekends! I’ve been supportive of Mr. Mayland and his solar projects. Let’s hope that what is now occurring on Van Deusenville Road (excessive noise) doesn’t ruin a positive track record thus far. This morning, I’ve emailed Mr. Mayland about this. Hopefully, he will be responsive.

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