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North Adams Celebrates Going 100 Percent Solar

State and local leaders Tuesday celebrated a solar array expected to power every single municipal and school building in North Adams.The landfill on E Street in North Adams is now covered by 6,000 solar panels, which when fully operating will produce 3.5 megawatts of power for the city. The array covers 14 of the 24-acre capped landfill.

“It’s the largest of its kind in western Massachusetts,” said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. “One that many said would never happen.”

Roughly four years in the making, the project is running at 75 percent capacity according to Alcombright. The array offsets nearly 3,000 tons of carbon each year, the equivalent of taking 630 cars off the road. After plans with another vendor fell through, the city partnered with San Diego-based Borrego Solar, which built and installed the array. North Adams executed the $9 million installation through a set 20-year power purchase agreement with Syncarpha Capital, a New York-based private equity firm. The city is also buying power from facilities in North Brookfield and Westminster in Worcester County, bringing the total capacity to 4.3 megawatts. Mayor Alcombright says the project didn’t cost the city a dime.

“These three systems are expected to offset all of the power used by the city’s municipal buildings and infrastructure,” he said. “City Hall, libraries, streetlights, schools and the state-owned and city-operated skating rink. Time will tell, but this will hopefully make the city 100 percent solar-powered.”

Alcombright says it’s estimated the project could save the city $400,000 a year. To celebrate the expectation of going 100 percent solar, the officials on hand cut an electric cord tied to an oil barrel. Recognizing other solar and wind power efforts in the region, Alcombright says the city may look at another 1 megawatt site at the airport.

“The town of Adams has a solar array and are looking at more currently I believe,” Alcombright said. “There are discussions now in Williamstown about solar. It’s a testament to our past in a way those who first came here utilized our rivers to generate power and now this city and greater region have come full circle through the utilization of sun and the wind behind us which is another powerful message.”

Dan Burgess, deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy Resources, was on hand to celebrate the project. He said Massachusetts is ranked fourth in solar installations in the country with some 30,000 installations.

“Projects like this make environmental sense, they make energy sense and they make economic sense as they create good, local clean energy jobs,” said Burgess.

Over the past decade, the state jumped from 3 megawatts of solar power and today stands at more than 900 megawatts on its way to a goal of 1,600 megawatts. State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield chairs the legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. He says projects like the North Adams array symbolize a shift in the state’s energy strategy.

“The transition away from one, two, three, four or five big energy generating sites to tens of thousands of smaller renewable distributed sites across the grid and throughout the region all of which are allowing us to capture the benefit of those investments and also making our grid more resilient and reliable over time,” said Downing.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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