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Driscoll hopeful for progress toward photovoltaic array

Date: 6/14/2011

June 13, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — Selectman James Driscoll is hopeful that the upcoming meeting between the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen will yield further progress in the town's pursuit of a photovoltaic array.

"As town leaders, we have a responsibility to make sound economic and environmental decisions and not squabble over semantics and minor objections," he said.

The two boards were originally scheduled to meet on June 6 to discuss the "terms, criteria and locations for a photovoltaic array," Planning Board manager Robyn Macdonald told Reminder Publications.

That meeting had to be cancelled because the agenda was not posted in accordance with Massachusetts Open Meeting laws because of the power outages associated with the tornadoes that made their way through Springfield and Wilbraham, among other communities, on June 1, she said.

Driscoll displayed his disappointment in the fact that significant progress was not made at the Annual Town Meeting, but also expressed hope that steps in the right direction would be taken in the near future.

"My goal in coming forward with a warrant article was to give the town an opportunity to tighten up the zoning rules and requirements, but unfortunately, the Planning Board didn't act quickly enough," Driscoll said. "What we're trying to do now is come up with a plan that will be beneficial to the town and hopefully have things in place for a vote at a Special Town Meeting this fall."

Driscoll cited both environmental and economic benefits that the town would be taking advantage of with a large-scale solar array.

"In addition to the obvious environmental impact, there's an awful lot of state and federal green energy incentives. It can also cut in half or do away with our municipal utility bills," Driscoll said. "I've met with several different vendors who offered different options, all of which are proven to work in other communities. It would be silly not to take advantage of the opportunity."

Driscoll added that in tight economic times, such a project would provide the town with a chance to gain some budgetary flexibility without layoffs.

"With a $55 million budget, most of the expenses are related to salary. Other than eliminating services, it's difficult to be fiscally conservative and tighten your belt the way you need to right now," he said. "One way to do it is by saving on our energy costs."

While work on a large-scale array continues, Driscoll said the town has other balls in the air regarding clean energy, including the possible installation of photovoltaic panels on municipal buildings, as well as the use of geothermal energy or pellet fuel options.

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