Founded in 1925, the Treasure Valley Scout Reservation is a 1,600-acre woodland camp in bucolic Rutland, Mass., that offers over 70 miles of trails through a variety of ecosystems and wildlife habitats. Primarily serving the Cub and Boy Scouts of the Mohegan Council, Treasure Valley supports many of the activities associated with the scouting tradition, such as canoeing, archery and woodcraft.
It also now hosts one of the largest solar arrays in Massachusetts.
The ceremonial switch on the 6 MW ground-mounted photovoltaic project was thrown at the end of June – just under the wire to meet the deadline for the commonwealth's first solar renewable energy certificate program. Although conceived in 2011, construction on the 30-acre site began only in November of last year and proceeded through a harsh winter.
Now supplying power to National Grid through a nearby substation, the project, owned by SunEdison, will produce net metering credits for local municipalities, including the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District, the Dudley Charlton Regional School District and the Southern Worcester County Regional Vocational School District.
Over and above its notable size, the Treasure Valley solar plant represents an innovative partnership of public, private and nonprofit interests coming together for the mutual benefit of the participating organizations and the surrounding community.
Use your sustainable resources
‘Be prepared’ is the well-known motto of the Boy Scouts, and ‘use your resources’ is its corresponding leadership principle. The Mohegan Council is a large landowner, and it started looking at developing a solar power plant on land that was not being used. The idea was that they could create a monetary benefit to fund their programs and also create more programs for the scouts.
The council had a group of senior advisors who were looking at a number of sustainability initiatives that included how to teach sustainability. How do they augment the information they provide to the Scouts with current energy-related issues?
‘There are certain things they teach, such as turning off a light when leaving a room, and then there are issues on a grander scale,’ says Zaid Ashai, chairman and CEO of Boston-based solar developer and builder Nexamp Inc., which received the contract to plan, finance and construct the Treasure Valley solar project. ‘The Mohegan Council thought about the solar array as a long-term investment to provide financial stability, educational opportunities and because it fit with its philosophy of sustainability.’
The Mohegan Council sent out a request for proposals, and Nexamp came back with a winning combination of project development experience, an understanding of municipal project management in the commonwealth, and an appreciation of Boy Scouts' history and values.
‘Two of our employees are Eagle Scouts,’ Ashai says.
More practically, Nexamp's status as a local player was an important factor. Massachusetts is known for its distinctly powerful local government, and the project passed through the requisite gauntlet of town meetings and public comment.
‘We have developed a lot of solar and have a lot of familiarity with the various municipalities around the region,’ he says. ‘Attending the various town meetings and being an honest broker is important in the commonwealth.’
On the engineering side, Ashai says the biggest challenge was that the site for the array was almost a rolling hill. A local through street facilitated access to the site. The array employs 19,063 Trina Solar TSM 300 PD14 and SunEdison modules on TerraSmart GSM fixed-tilt mounting and racking. The inverters are Solectria SGI500s.
‘The grade made it really interesting, I'll say that,’ he says. ‘It was challenging to get through the construction timeline given the topography of the land. We built this in the winter, which wasn't ideal because the weather was miserable with a lot of freezing and thawing cycles.’
Perhaps the location of the array site in a scout reservation underlined the importance of land management as the project proceeded. In particular, Ashai says much of the engineering effort went into deploying the mounts to prevent erosion.
‘Philosophically, we adhere to the belief that when you start a ground-mount project you better restore the land to its original state, if not a better state,’ Ashai says. ‘Like the Boy Scouts, we are in the sustainability business. If we leave a mess, it doesn't matter if we have put solar panels in the ground.’