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Somers Road solar array on track for 2014


July 11, 2013
By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

HAMPDEN — It will be some time before the photovoltaic array approved for Somers Road is operational.

On June 6, the Planning Board approved the installation of a solar facility no larger than 4 megawatts at 229 Somers Road.

"We're expecting to be ready in mid-March or April 2014," Kirt Mayland, director of Business Management for Soltas Energy.

The facility proposed by Soltas Energy would take up nearly 17 acres on the former Kibbe Gravel Pit site, consisting of approximately 10,000 panels. The special permit for the project was approved with a host of conditions. The facility must not be visible from the road and shrubs or other plants measuring 8 to 10 feet tall must be planted by the road to provide a visibility barrier.

An operations and maintenance plan, as well as a decommissioning plan for the facility must also be approved and a payment in lieu of taxes agreement between Soltas and the Board of Selectmen must be reached.

Mayland told Reminder Publications that going through the permitting process with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the next step for the company before any construction can be performed.

"Really, we have a lot of deskwork to do for the next four or five months," he said. "The permitting work with the DEP can take several months in and of itself."

Among the issues that need to be resolved is receipt of a 401water quality certification from the DEP that would allow for the installation of solar panels on the wetlands. According to Mayland, the panels utilize no chemicals and the transformers used in their facilities contain biodegradable oil.

Mayland said the project would also have to wait for the new Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program to commence. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) proposed a new SREC program, dubbed SREC-II, to expand solar programs in Massachusetts after stating that the 400-megawatt cap for the current Solar Carve-Out program had been reached.

"The SREC-II program through the DOER is supposed to be launched in March [2014]," Mayland said. "The governor [Deval Patrick] promised a 1.2 gigawatt solar program, which would represent an 800 megawatt increase."

Mayland added that while in some cases the waiting game could be viewed as a hindrance, the timetable fits well with the company's plans.

."National Grid had a 10 to 12 month timeline to do their upgrades and this puts us on the right timeline to be ready when they are," he said.

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