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New England News

Electricity Storage System To Be Added To Mount Tom Solar

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      A solar power storage system will be built on the grounds of a former coal-burning plant in western Massachusetts.

    Holyoke Gas & Electric Co. is building a three-megawatt energy storage system at Mount Tom Solar that will allow the municipal utility to meet spikes in demand without having to purchase power from the grid.

    Consisting of a series of batteries, it will be the largest utility-scale energy storage project in Massachusetts, according to a news release.  The project is being paid for with a $475,000 grant from the state Department of Energy Resources.

   The old coal-fired Mount Tom Power Station operated from 1960-2014. Last year, a nearly 6- megawatt solar farm, with 17,000 solar panels, was installed on 22 acres of the 128-acre site.

   HG&E has an agreement to purchase all the electricity generated at the site, which is enough to power 1,000 homes, according to James Lavelle, the manager of the power company.

"We are going to have over 75 percent of our electric portfolio that is renewable energy and over 98 percent of our energy will be carbon-free, he said.

  The conversion of the Mount Tom Power Station site to clean energy has been hailed by environmental groups and community organizers. At last year’s groundbreaking ceremony for the solar farm, Carlos Rodriguez, a leader of Action for a Healthy Holyoke, blamed the old coal plant for high asthma rates in the lower Pioneer Valley.

  " If you asked me four or five years ago, people would have said the plant will never shut down," said Rodriguez. " It was hard, but we did it. We did it."

  Claire Miller, a lead organizer with Toxics Action Center, said Holyoke is a model for other communities that have old coal-burning plants.

   "One of the advantages of a coal-fired power plant is that it already has the hookups to the grid," explained Miller. " Every utility company should look at this."

   A re-use study launched by the administration of Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse  the year the plant shut down had recommended putting solar panels on part of the power plant property.

  "This is what we wanted to see happen," said Morse.

  The study, which included several public hearings, also urged commercial redevelopment of a portion of the property and providing public access to the Connecticut River.

  The city is receiving a $146,000 annual payment in lieu of taxes from the solar farm. Officials say it is a small fraction of the property taxes the power plant once paid.

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