WMECO Unveils 6-MW Solar Energy Plan

Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) announced at the end of last week that it filed a plan with the state’s Department of Public Utilities to implement a 6-megawatt (MW) solar energy program in its service area that could begin to generate power from solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities as early as 2010.

In the first phase of the WMECO plan, eight locations have been identified as potential host sites of solar facilities. The potential sites include:

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center
  • The City of Pittsfield’s landfill
  • Springfield Central High School
  • The former GE site now owned by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority 
  • Ludlow Westbound Rest Area and Ludlow Mills
  • Utility-owned properties in Pittsfield and Springfield

These initial sites will represent a cost of approximately US $42 million. By adding additional sites between 2010 and 2012, WMECO’s solar capacity could expand to 15 MW. Beyond 2012 WMECO could expand the number of sites to reach 50 MW.

WMECO will help offset the program’s costs by selling not only the electricity generated by the solar arrays but also its environmental and other credits through programs such as Renewable Energy Credits and New England’s Forward Capacity Market. If approved, the bill impact on customers is expected to be modest, amounting initially to less than $1 per month for an average residential customer using 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month.

Under the Massachusetts Green Communities Act electric distribution companies like WMECO are authorized to play a role in meeting the state’s solar energy goal of developing 250 megawatts (MW) of installed solar by 2017. Under the Green Communities Act, WMECO is allowed to own up to 50 MW of solar facilities.

Earlier this year, RenewableEnergyWorld.com looked into what types of solar energy projects utilites around the country have in the pipline. Most of these projects are in the Southwest, where, according to analysis from Vote Solar, contracts have been signed for 4,800 MW in Arizona and California, representing US $36.5 billion in the form of earnings & economic output, 10,000-58,000 jobs in manufacturing & installation each year over the 5 year construction time frame and 3,000 permanent jobs in operation & maintenance. 

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