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Northampton Moving Ahead With Landfill Solar Project


The city of Northampton, Massachusetts is planning a number of solar power projects that would further reduce the city’s carbon footprint, while providing a new source of revenue.

As soon as this summer, Northampton is likely to join dozens of other municipalities in the state that have turned old landfills into solar farms. And, in what appears to be a first in western Massachusetts at least, solar arrays may pop up at some municipal parking lots, according to Chris Mason, the city’s energy officer.

  Two years after the city’s landfill closed, following years of controversy and lawsuits from neighbors over foul odors, the 15-acre site has settled sufficiently to allow for the construction of thousands of solar panels.

Mason said the city will soon request proposals from solar power companies to build and operate a large solar array on the capped landfill. Work could start this summer. The scope of the project is still being determined.

"We had an engineering study done by Smith University students a few years ago and they estimated 3-4 megawatts. It is probably going to be on the low end of that because we are only going to use the flat part of the landfill," said Mason.

A 4-megawatt system would entail the installation of roughly 20,000 solar panels.

Northampton is using a $10,000 state grant for an engineering study to determine if solar panels could be installed at any of eight city-owned parking lots as well on the roof of the downtown parking garage and the top of the new police station.

The solar panels would be affixed to canopies built over the parking spaces.

"It is a rather obvious place to put them ( solar panels). There are advantages to having shade for cars in the summer, or the snow is not falling on cars. We are exploring to see just how feasible this is."

Mason said for all the solar projects the city will select a contractor to build and own the energy generating system. The city would get revenue either through a lease, a payment in lieu of taxes, or by purchasing electricity from the contractor at a reduced rate.

Five years ago, Massachusetts began offering incentives in the form of solar-renewable energy credits to generate solar power on capped landfills. The program has now expanded to include more open spaces including parking lots and “brownfields.”

The city of Springfield has solar arrays on both a capped landfill and a once-badly polluted industrial site.  Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city collects $750,000 in property taxes from the two solar facilities and has put to productive use land that could otherwise not be developed.

Northampton is planning another energy project thanks to a $3 million state grant that was awarded in the waning days of the administration of Governor Deval Patrick.  The money will be used for a network of solar arrays and batteries to power the Fire Department Headquarters, Cooley Dickenson Hospital, and Smith Vocational High School in the event of an extended blackout.  The school is used as a Red Cross shelter.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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