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Berkshire Communities Highlight Their Efforts In Statewide Push For Clean Energy

Josh Landes
Michael Canales of North Adams, Ariel Moyal and Ben Hellerstein of Environment Massachusetts, James Kolesar of Williams College, and Tory Hanna of Origin Solar Energy in downtown Pittsfield's Persip Park.

An environmental group gathered Berkshire community leaders in Pittsfield, Massachusetts this week to detail their respective efforts at promoting renewable energy.

On a hot and windy day, Environment Massachusetts – a statewide advocacy group – assembled representatives from around Berkshire County in downtown Pittsfield’s Persip Park. Ben Hellerstein is the group’s state director.

“Our event here in Pittsfield today is all about shining a spotlight on all the policy options that are out there to accelerate our transition to 100 percent renewable energy in the hopes that whoever wins the gubernatorial race this fall is going to take up these recommendations and really run with them,” said Hellerstein.

He said that while the group’s relationship with Republican Governor Charlie Baker has been “productive”, it has experienced a “hesitation about thinking big” on the part of the administration.

“In a lot of cases, we’ve been able to make progress, for example, incrementally increasing the caps on solar net metering," said Hellerstein. "But our message is that we should be getting rid of those caps all together.”

Tory Hanna is a Pittsfield resident and founder of Boston-based solar energy company Origin Solar. He’s volunteering to help run a Mass Clean Energy Center Microgrid Feasibility Study in downtown Pittsfield that’s been recently funded to the tune of $75,000. Using solar power, the microgrid would create an energy island connecting the city’s most vital infrastructure in the event of a disaster.

“Pittsfield is really a bastion for renewable energy projects," said Hanna. "We have six solar farms online already, there’s a number of clean energy initiatives that we’ve taken on, our green commission.”

North Adams Administrative Officer Michael Canales shared the Northern Berkshire city’s renewable energy accomplishments, starting with its solar array atop a capped landfill just off Route 8.

“It’s a 3.5-megawatt, 6,000-panel array on 14 acres of land," said Canales. "We also buy power from two other solar installations, and we have solar on top of Drury, we have it on our library. With all the systems included, we’re able to provide 100 percent solar power. That equals removing about 630 cars from the road.”

Canales says that after the city moved to its 100 percent renewable energy plan from National Grid Basic in 2012, at least 80 percent of the city has chosen the renewable energy option. Public Power currently provides the city with energy, at a rate that Canales says is just below that of National Grid.

James Kolesar is Assistant to the President for Community and Government Affairs at Williams College in neighboring Williamstown.

“So the college has set a goal that by the end of 2020 to have reduced our own gas emissions to 35 percent below what they were in 1990 and to purchase the amount of offsets needed to get to carbon neutrality by the end of 2020,” said Kolesar

The college has invested in a solar array in Williamstown, spending $3.5 million of its own money and $1.5 million from a private donor.

Environment Massachusetts is calling on Massachusetts legislators to reconcile Senate and House renewable energy bills before the session ends July 31st.

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