HANCOCK – Despite a last-minute, one-year renewal by Congress of substantial federal subsidies for wind-energy developers that had been set to expire on New Year’s Day, the region’s leading alternative-energy firm is taking no chances and is focusing instead on large-scale solar projects.
At EOS Ventures, based at Jiminy Peak Resort, “the landscape changes very quickly,” said CEO and Partner Tyler Fairbank in an interview this week. “It’s been a challenge all along, an annual issue with the extension of tax subsidies by Congress, but we’re seasoned veterans at this point.”
EOS in its fifth year of operations.
The renewal of the tax breaks that have helped finance wind farms across the nation, including several in Berkshire County, was up in the air until the fiscal cliff compromise reached by the Senate at 2 a.m. Tuesday and approved by the House late Tuesday evening.
Given the year-to-year uncertainty of continued federal support, “the wind business has been a much smaller part of the projects we’ve been involved in,” Fairbank said.
Developers across the nation had sprinted to get new wind farms up and running by Jan. 1 in case Congress failed to extend federal wind production tax credits. They had feared a cutoff of future wind-turbine projects.
The compromise bill approved by Congress includes a one-year extension of the tax credit, allowing wind-farm developers to claim
the credit for projects that begin construction by Jan. 1, 2014.
Just opened is the state’s largest wind facility so far – the 19-turbine Hoosac Wind complex atop Bakke Mountain in the town of Florida and Crum Hill in the adjacent Franklin County town of Monroe. The Iberdrola Renewables project, expected to generate 28 megawatts of electricity, was dedicated by Gov. Deval Patrick on Dec. 3. At full throttle, the wind farm would generate enough power for an estimated 10,000 homes.
Noting that the up-and-running 10-turbine, 15-megawatt Berkshire Wind installation atop Brodie Mountain in New Ashford was 13 years in the making, Fairbank emphasized that with government subsidies not assured, “no developer would risk putting capital in without the financing.” EOS became the developer of Berkshire Wind as one of its earliest and, to date, most elaborate renewable energy ventures.
“Because of the doomsday scenario” involving the uncertainty of future federal tax breaks, said Fairbank, “there have been no new wind projects for over a year that would fit our mission.”
Instead, he said, “we developed a big portfolio of utility-sized solar projects. We had to be very nimble, and we altered our strategy over the past two years.”
As a “great success story,” Fairbank cited the development of a major, 2.2-megawatt solar installation at the former Pownal, Vt., racetrack, which had been lying fallow for over 20 years and had seen a succession of failed development proposals.
“That’s where we’ve been spending our time, getting away from projects requiring federal and state wind-energy incentives,” he noted
The big difference: Solar projects are eligible for a 30 percent federal investment tax credit, and the legislation funding such projects is securely in place until 2016.
Acknowledging that EOS has morphed from wind to solar, with an emphasis on utility-scale projects – the largest category, towering over residential and municipal installations – Fairbank said the company is also developing commercial-scale co-generation renewable energy projects, which combine hot water and electricity. Such projects are far less affected by federal tax credits, he added.
All told, EOS has taken part in wind and solar projects providing 25 megawatts of alternative energy in six Northeastern states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts.
By early 2012, the company had completed a $4.5 million package of seven solar installations statewide – five in Berkshire County, one at Brandeis University in Waltham and another at a high school athletic building in Seekonk, adding up to more than 1.3 megawatts of renewables.
In Berkshire County, solar panel units have been installed at the Bedard Brothers auto dealership in Cheshire, Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington, Hancock Shaker Village, Quality Printing in Pittsfield, and the West Stockbridge Town Hall. EOS, which received major funding from Berkshire Bank, owns and maintains the systems, which have an expected 20-year life span and are tied to power-utility grids.
In addition to Berkshire Wind, EOS developed turbines at Jiminy Peak to supply more than one-third of the resort’s energy needs, at Fox Islands Wind at Vinalhaven, Maine, and several other sites.
“We continue to be relevant and successful,” Fairbank said. “We’ve had to do it in a variety of different ways, looking at everything under the sun, so to speak, changing strategy on the fly. I can’t think of another private developer in the region that has done as much in the past five years.”
In future years, he predicted, “we’ll need to stay focused and nimble to develop our portfolio. We do one to three projects per year because they’re so big.”
Coming up in the new year is an anticipated multi-megawatt, utility-scale solar project in Berkshire County, said Fairbank, adding that he could not yet get into specifics.
“We have a handful of big projects in Western Massachusetts in our pipeline,” he noted.
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