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Town officials weigh benefits, costs of solar power

Date: 4/25/2011

April 25, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — East Longmeadow continues to look into the possibility of using solar power as a viable energy source.

Selectman James Driscoll, chair of the Green Committee, told Reminder Publications that town officials have explored the prospect of photovoltaic arrays at great length.

"We've been looking at it for about a year, trying to get our arms around what it would take to get the best return on investment for the town," Driscoll said. "We've been working with consultants and we're confident this is something we want to move forward with."

One of the steps the town needs to take is to make a change to the zoning bylaws that would outline the definition of what a photovoltaic array is and where those arrays would be permitted. Those changes would have to be voted upon at the Annual Town Meeting, scheduled for May 16.

Massachusetts General Law states that any bylaw changes must be presented to the town at an open public meeting before they are voted upon, Planning Board Director Robyn Macdonald said. According the office of the Planning Department, a public hearing regarding bylaw changes has been scheduled for May 10.

Driscoll said the town has considered several options in terms of where a solar array might be placed in East Longmeadow, including on the roofs of municipal buildings and possibly on the site of the closed landfill on Allen Street.

"We're looking everywhere to see what makes sense for the town," Driscoll said.

Macdonald said the construction of a photovoltaic array on the closed landfill would most likely be a tall order, as the town would need to spend a significant amount of money to properly close and cap the site.

Longmeadow recently attempted to get a large-scale photovoltaic array constructed on the site of their closed landfill, citing energy cost savings and green energy considerations for the state and federal levels as their motivation. Selectman Mark Gold recently announced that the town would no longer pursue such a venture because after reviewing bids from contractors, there was not a situation that proved beneficial.

"I'm not sure what went wrong there, but from our town's perspective, we are going to look into situations where the cost of the technology and the labor will be offset by the savings," Driscoll said. "We're looking for a situation similar to the retrofitting of the lights for the schools. There are opportunities to partner with companies and finance the project through the savings we receive. Then when the project is paid off, the town will reap the benefits of those savings."

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