HANCOCK -- As they walked through the mid-morning snow toward the visitors center at Hancock Shaker Village on Wednesday, attendees of the upcoming press conference couldn't help noticing the dozens of solar photovoltaic panels lined up in the field to their right.
The location of the panels was no accident.
As Hancock Shaker President Ellen Spear said, officials wanted visitors to notice the solar installation, which falls in line with the Shakers' pursuit of sustainability and renewable resources.
At the press conference, called by renewable energy developer EOS Ventures of Hancock, it was announced that the Hancock Shaker Village project was one of seven relatively small solar projects bundled together to achieve enough savings to move forward in a difficult economic environment.
The result is a 20-year, $4.5 million deal that comprises Hancock Shaker, the Bedard Brothers auto dealership in Cheshire, Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington, Quality Printing in Pittsfield, the West Stockbridge Town Hall, Brandeis University in Waltham and the Wheeler School athletic facilities in Seekonk.
"This allows us to take another step forward in what we want to do -- our part in preserving the planet," said June Roy-Martin, Quality Printing's communications director.
All seven installations were essentially finished by the end of 2009 in a race against time before one of the multiple funding elements was set to expire. The seven await the utility companies' visits for final inspection and connection to the electricity grid, which should happen during the next two weeks.
Noting that "the Shakers were green before green had a name," Spear said the solar array will be part of the village/museum's educational program, which includes sustainable agriculture and renewable energy as used in the 1800s and now in the 2010s at Hancock Shaker Village.
EOS President Tyler Fairbank explained to the gathering of media, politicians and business leaders that after his company worked on the seven separate projects for nine months, the state's funding incentives suddenly decreased, spelling an end to all seven.
But after discussing the alternatives, the partners in the effort -- including Berkshire Bank and Alteris Renewables Inc. of Wilton, Conn. -- decided to move forward by reducing their individual profits and combining the seven projects into one.
At the same time, the cost of solar panels decreased, and suddenly all seven projects became possible again, as long as they could be built before the end of 2009. That gave the partners slightly more than three months to purchase the hardware, finalize the financing and legalities and mobilize the work crews.
Alteris handled the installation and design end of the solar projects, and Berkshire Bank became the financial designer and tax-equity partner.
In the Berkshires, the solar installations are expected to offset 84 percent of the energy load at Bedard Brothers' Volvo building, 66 percent at Hancock Shaker Village, 43 percent at West Stockbridge Town Hall, 18 percent at Quality Printing and 15 percent at Berkshire South.
Throughout the day, Fairbank, Spear and others used the words "pioneering" and "leadership" to describe that the effort to push these projects to completion was ground-breaking in several ways.
The idea of bundling the projects was a new concept in solar that might turn out to be a model for other such projects, Fairbank said.
He also noted that in terms of the financial model, Berkshire Bank has taken on a national standing in funding renewable projects.
"We looked all around the nation for a tax-equity partner, and we found it right here in our own back yard," Fairbank said.
Each of the seven solar installations is owned by EOS Ventures. The organizations that agreed to have the solar panels on their premises will pay EOS for the energy produced at a rate that is significantly lower than the rates charges by the electric utilities over the 20-year term of the purchase agreement.
Taken together, the seven projects will generate more than 880,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, which will eliminate the generation of 4.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels -- the equivalent of planting nearly 200,000 trees or removing 130 cars from Massachusetts roads every year, Fairbank said.
He praised the leadership demonstrated by Alteris, Berkshire Bank, the EOS staff and all seven customers.
"This is a ground-breaking approach in renewable power, and they have all led the way in reducing their electrical costs for decades," he said.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, also praised all partners in the project, noting that every dollar saved on a utility bill can be reinvested in the respective business or used to reduce the costs for their own customers.
Spear said Hancock Shaker Village will save about two-thirds of its power costs, or about $4,500 yearly. But beyond the savings, she said, "This installation is part of a larger vision for Hancock Shaker Village. When you come here, hopefully you can learn a way to change your way of living."