Massive New England Solar Array Plans Unveiled

What do you do with a 27 acre site of land, capping industrial contaminants and off-grounds to development in a town that is 97 percent developed already? – You build the largest solar electric array in New England, of course.

Westborough, Massachusetts – March 5, 2004 [] What do you do with a 27 acre site of land, capping industrial contaminants and off-grounds to development in a town that is 97 percent developed already? You build the largest solar electric array in New England, of course. Beginning this fall, what is now a blight on the Massachusetts city of Brockton’s land — a remediated Brownfields site — will redeem itself and become the city’s “Brightfield” project, a massive 500 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) array. To include as many as 6,720 solar panels, this project would be among only a handful of solar projects this large in the United States, and in a class of its own in New England. The project was spearheaded by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) the state’s economic development agency for renewable energy and the innovation economy. The agency administers the state’s public benefits fund, the Renewable Energy Trust, that helps spur projects such as these that offer clean, renewable energy while providing an influx of jobs and market stimulus for the renewable energy industry. The major stimulus in this case was the US$1.04 million in grant funding authorized by the MTC’s board of directors. This grant funding from the trust will help purchase and install the solar PV array. The city of Brockton, located south of Boston, will also contribute towards the project. “We worked really hard on this as there was some opposition, but in the end people saw that this was a good opportunity to show what PV could do,” said Renewable Energy Trust Director Rob Pratt. “Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this project is the impact it can have toward shaping the way the next generation thinks about electricity and the direct link energy generation has with our environment. The Brightfield project will include interpretive displays for educational purposes, allowing students from local schools to visit the solar array and plans are underway to incorporate hands-on learning activities in science and math classes. “The project will not only produce a significant amount of electricity, but it will be highly symbolic, drawing attention to PV, providing an educational base for science curricula in our schools, a focal point as a renewable energy tourist attraction, great content to the Brockton project internet site, and a focal point for solar similar to how Hull has become a focal point for wind,” Pratt said. The Massachusetts seacoast town of Hull installed a large 660 kW Vestas wind turbine in 2001. Initial skepticism from local townspeople has since turned into a widespread acceptance prompting the town to consider further wind development. The wind turbine has also been extremely successful in marketing its green power for trade within the “green tags” or Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) markets. While all the hard work, including funding and permitting is out of the way, the Brightfield project itself will be up for grabs to the company that can provide the best proposal for the project, according to Lori Ribeiro Colombo, City of Brockton Brownfields Coordinator. Spire Solar was involved in conducting the feasibility study but the vendor for the array has not yet been selected. Since it is a municipality, the city of Brockton will have to procure the system following the state’s general laws, with a request for proposals (RFP) likely offered this summer. Companies interested in this project will have to deal with some specific challenges on the location. The feasibility study recommended that the PV be ground-mounted at a fixed 35 degree angle. Because of contaminants capped below the ground, the mounting system cannot penetrate 18″. Spire recommended in its feasibility study mounting six panels on a bent monopole in a concrete slab-on-grade mounting structure. This particular approach is not set in stone however. “Since the study was completed, some vendors have suggested they have mounting structures that meet our needs and are more aesthetically pleasing, which we will evaluate through a formal proposal process,” Ribeiro Colombo said. While the depth limitations may seem a hindrance to the project, it is also a major reason for the solar array in the first place. “There are no other conceivable end uses for the site because of the contaminants capped below the ground,” Ribeiro Colombo said. “This site was selected because Brockton is 97% developed. Our economic revitalization requires us to make productive use of brownfields. This site wasýidle for decades and a blight in the neighborhood.” The term `brownfield site’ means “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In this case the site has been almost completely cleaned up by the Bay State Gas Company. “The Bay State Gas Company is responding to the community’s desire to make the site attractive, and we proposed the solar energy park concept which was broadly supported by the community,” Ribeiro Colombo said. Not only will the project make good use of the property and provide clean renewable electric power for the area, but it will also provide a valuable credits for the nascent green power market that trades in the commodities of clean energy. This is the very same market that has helped the Hull wind turbine project become such a quick success. Once such possible customer the Brightfield’s green tags is Massachusetts itself which has self-imposed legislation (RPS) calling for the state to source a small, but certain amount of energy from renewable energy sources. To help this effort along, the MTC is committing $644,485 from its Massachusetts Green Power Partnership as a revenue guarantee for Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) generated by the project, which provides a revenue stream to support the overall financing of the array. Brockton Mayor John T. Yunits, Jr. believes that innovative, green development such as the Brightfield will help in other downtown revitalization initiatives including his plans to bring more residential and economic development downtown. “The Brightfield will draw people into Brockton to marvel at what we are able to achieve in transforming a blighted property using clean, green power,” Yunits said. “It will be a tremendous asset for educating our youth and the general public about energy and the environment. People will want to come to visit the solar park. It will make people want to live in that neighborhood.” In addition to the MTC’s generous contribution, the Brockton 21st Century Corporation, Spire Corporation, and XENERGY all worked on the project completing a yearlong feasibility study to develop the Brightfield project.
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