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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Commissioners take next step toward studying solar panel farm

NORTH ATTLEBORO - North Attleboro Electric Department will meet with consultants to try and pin down the cost of constructing a solar panel farm on the closed Mount Hope Street landfill before deciding whether to conduct a feasibility study for the idea.

A preliminary report was presented to electric commissioners Wednesday, who agreed to take the next step.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company arranged for a vendor to come and study the Mount Hope Street landfill as a potential site for a solar panel farm.
If the project is ultimately constructed, it could provide enough electricity to power at least 250 homes.

Two projects were explored - a larger project that would place 4,400 solar panels on at least 10 flat acres of the 30-acre landfill and a smaller project that would put a 20-panel array on the roof of the building at the recycling center. The latter project is not deemed feasible because it would only generate a small amount of electricity. The larger project was estimated to cost $3 million, however, electric officials are concerned the estimate is too low, and will try to refine the figures.

"I think there's a lot of interest in the potential of it, but there are still a lot of questions," said General Manager James Moynihan.

"We're going to tighten up the figures and come back to the board. If it looks like something that will work, we'll think about the idea of a preliminary feasibility study."

Even at the $3 million figure, it would cost the town more to generate its own electricity than to purchase it elsewhere - at current market prices. However, there is the possibility that the town could receive grants to help offset the cost of the project.

North Attleboro Electric also has been in touch with Brockton Brightfields - the largest solar panel farm in New England - to gather information. That project has some similarities to North Attleboro's, since it was developed on a contaminated former site of Brockton Gas Works, which is capped like the Mount Hope Street landfill.

The Brockton Brightfields project, which cost $3 million to construct and lies on 3.7 acres of land, generates 535 megawatt hours of electricity per year, or enough to power 70 homes.
North Attleboro's project would be at least twice as large.

The Brockton project took six years to obtain permits and three months to construct - though it had challenges North Attleboro would not have to face.

For the Brockton project, the city had to acquire the land and work out issues with National Grid, while North Attleboro already owns the property and would not have to negotiate for connections with an investor-owned utility.

AMY DeMELIA can be reached at 508-236-0334 or at