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Whately shines on

8,000-panel solar array goes online

Joyce Palmer Fortune of the Whately Selectboard, third from left, and other officials address a small crowd at the opening of the new solar array at FairView Farms in Whately on Thursday.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Joyce Palmer Fortune of the Whately Selectboard, third from left, and other officials address a small crowd at the opening of the new solar array at FairView Farms in Whately on Thursday. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

WHATELY — A new solar energy installation in Whately has officially gone live.

Chairwoman Joyce Palmer Fortune of the Board of Selectmen praised the completion of the solar farm at its official inauguration Thursday, saying, “It’s times like these when being a public official is really, really good ... There are times when issues come up when it’s just, ‘Yes, absolutely, we want that! We want green energy and we want to make this happen.’ I’m happy to have had a hand in this.”

Located just off Long Plain Road at Fairview Farms, the 8,129-panel ground-mounted array was installed by North Andover-based solar developer Nexamp and will produce 2.4 megawatts of electricity annually.

The developer will pay Whately $6,150 per megawatt in the first year. The payment will increase by 2.5 percent each year.

The system began feeding electricity to the grid on June 17.

Palmer Moore, Nexamp’s project developer, also spoke, detailing the three-year process to build the array and praising the town for going through with it.

“We want to give a big thanks to the town of Whately. From the outset, the townspeople realized the importance of bringing clean energy to their town.”

After the speeches, Nexamp representatives explained how the array would work and answered questions from some of the students who had come from Boston University and Smith College to attend.

Energy to UMass

Some of the energy that is produced will be purchased with net-metering credits by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Ezra Small, the university’s campus sustainability manager, said the energy produced by the installation will save the university $1.2 million over the next 20 years.

Small said the array will also be used by the university for educational purposes.

“We can bring students up here and show them how helping to bring green energy into the grid benefits UMass and reduces the carbon factor from our central heating plant,” said Small. “Plus, all the energy goes into the grid, which helps everyone.”

The university will also purchase an additional 1.5 megawatts generated from a second facility in Hadley, which was also developed by Nexamp. Together, the two projects are expected to save the university approximately $1.5 million over the first 20 years of operation.

Community response

Alan Sanderson, the co-owner of Fairview Farms, said he’s happy to have the installation on his land, noting that the plot that it is built on is marginal farmland with sandy soil that is difficult to grow crops on. Additionally, the farm will receive monthly payments from the developer to host the array, which Sanderson said will help the farm’s cash flow during the months when little business is conducted.

Sanderson said the idea to put an array on the farmland originally came out of a meeting he had with Nexamp after they had finished installing a system at the Northampton Co-op Auction Barn, located just down the street.

“We went over to see it finished, and we started talking to them,” said Sanderson. “They came down and looked at the land, and said it was suitable.”

Whately residents who own property abutting the installation seemed pleased with how the project turned out. Many said that the concerns they had about noise from the farm’s operations or glare from the sun were unfounded.

“It’s nice, and there’s not too much noise,” said abutter Bob Smith. Smith said he feels the location is well suited for the project, as well. “It was minimally good farm land, and it’s good that they chose it for something that has low impact on the land. It’s smarter than it could have been.”

Abutter Bill Orloski said he thinks the location is ideal.

“It’s out of the way of everything else,” he said.

The installation will produce enough electricity annually to power the equivalent of about 400 homes.

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