Solar project could aid 7 organizations


PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- They are seven disparate organizations, but they share at least one goal: using solar power to reduce crippling, long-term energy costs.

The seven entities -- five of which are located in Berkshire County -- have teamed with Hancock-based EOS Ventures, Berkshire Bank, and Alteris Renewables in Connecticut to have solar panels installed in a $4.5 million, 20-year project being called "the Berkshire Bundle" by EOS, a 2-year-old renewable energy development company.

"The big idea was to bring solar to entities that otherwise couldn’t afford it," said Tyler Fairbank, the CEO of EOS Ventures. The organizations include two nonprofits -- the Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington and Hancock Shaker Village -- along with Quality Printing, a private company in Pittsfield; Bedard Brothers, a large motor vehicle dealership in Cheshire; and the town of West Stockbridge.

The partnership, announced Wednesday, also includes Brandeis University in Waltham, one of the country’s leading private research institutions, and the Wheeler School, a co-ed independent day school in Providence, R.I. Wheeler’s solar power facility was installed at the fieldhouse at the school’s secondary campus in Seekonk, a Massachusetts town on the Rhode Island border.

The decision by EOS, Berkshire Bank and Alteris to combine the seven solar energy proposals into a single package made the project feasible. The financing formula, known as a Power Purchasing Agreement, eliminated the capital investment for an alternative energy source that remains expensive. "We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the partnership and the financing with that partnership," said Eliza Crescentini, Berkshire South’s executive director.

Besides saving on utility costs, Crescentini and Hancock Shaker Village President and CEO Ellen Spear said the installation of a green energy source reflects the goals of each nonprofit’s mission. Berkshire South, which opened in 2002, provides a variety of wellness, recreational and educational programs for South County residents.

Spear said solar power at Hancock Shaker follows in the tradition of the Shakers, who used sustainable energy practices for 200 years. The solar panels at the village were installed on the roof of the visitors center and already are operational. Spear said the panels will result in an annual savings of $4,500 on the nonprofit’s utility bill.

"We felt the [Power Purchasing Agreement] was a very cost-effective way for a nonprofit like us without a huge capital budget to have sustainable energy for use," Spear said.

Quality Printing, founded in 1963, has long been a practitioner of green initiatives, such as recycling, the reduction of chemical emissions, and the use of soy-based ink, according to June Roy-Martin, the company’s communications director.

Roy-Martin said Quality Printing looked into installing solar panels last year, but found the initiative to be too costly until the Berkshire Bundle came along. The company pays between $12,000 and $15,000 a month for electricity, but Roy-Martin said the solar energy facility could cut that cost between 8 and 15 percent, "depending on how much it can produce."

Bedard Brothers, which celebrated its 50th year in Cheshire in 2009, began to look into solar power two years ago, but Vice President Brian Bedard said the capital investment would have been too high. EOS’ ability to own and install the solar equipment, a condition of the Power Purchasing Agreement, made the move to solar power feasible. "It saves me a little bit of money, and it’s clean energy," Bedard said.

Bedard’s solar power facility was installed at the building that houses the Volvo dealership because it was best-suited for the system. It is expected to offset 84 percent of the energy load for just that structure.

In West Stockbridge, Town Administrator Mark Webber said solar panels have been installed on the Town Hall, which was the best facility available. "It’s a nice, strong building with a strong roof and great exposure," Webber said. "A lot of other buildings were precluded because of shading or other reasons."

Solar power is expected to save $7,000 to $8,000 in the Town Hall’s energy costs during the first year, Webber said. Founded in 1889, the Wheeler School began a series of sustainability initiatives three years ago. School Business Manager Gary Esposito said it was cheaper for the school to have the solar panels installed in Massachusetts because Rhode Island doesn’t have the same tax incentives for alternative energy programs.

Esposito said the school could save as much as $500,000 in utility costs over the life of the 20-year agreement it has with EOS. At Brandeis, the solar power facility was installed on the roof of the gymnasium. It is expected to cut the gym’s energy costs by 10 percent, according to Janna Cohen-Rosenthal, the university’s assistant sustainability coordinator.


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