Eversource's leap into solar power hits milestone; more planned
SAVOY — Fresh snow lay heavy on Savoy hillsides at daybreak Tuesday, even atop 7,000 newly installed solar panels.
But slanting rays penetrated the morning blanket. As a cluster of inverters buzzed inside metal cases, a new Eversource solar installation was busy converting the direct current flowing from rows of ground-mounted panels into about one-third of its potential output.
"Somebody is looking at a computer screen and can tell right now that there is 850 kilowatts being generated, even with snow on the panels," said Mark W. Kimball, Eversource's project director for solar.
That power ran through conduits off this hillside west to Route 8A, near the Windsor line, where it moved out into the grid as part of the utility's big leap into providing renewable energy.
The $10 million Savoy solar farm is one of four new Eversource facilities in Berkshire County — and 19 in Western Massachusetts, all part of the company's accelerated drive to provide about 70 megawatts of electricity. Of those 19, 17 are operating and two are expected to go online this year, after an investment of about $170 million.
Legislation that has been filed would allow Eversource to ramp up even more, if it secures approvals from the state Department of Public Utilities. Though its main business is to transmit and distribute electricity to about 1.4 million customers in 140 communities, Eversource had an incentive to get into solar energy. It can obtain the electricity at lower costs.
"We are seeking to build solar sites, maybe up to a very large number," said Priscilla Ress, a company spokeswoman. "Up to 1,000 megawatts more."
If that happens, the utility will increase its latest solar ventures more than 14-fold.
Eversource operates entities formerly known as Western Massachusetts Electric Co. in the western part of the state and as NStar to the east. Both units of the utility are diving into solar power. New facilities to the east include solar farms in New Bedford, Plymouth, Wareham and Westwood.
In the Berkshires, four new solar photovoltaic installations approved by the DPU are generating about 9 megawatts of electricity. Along with the Savoy site, the company has finished work on facilities in Hinsdale (2.7 megawatts), Lee (2.3 megawatts) and Pittsfield (1.5 megawatts).
Pittsfield is home to the utility's first foray into photovoltaics nearly a decade ago. Eversource installed panels at Silver Lake, near the former General Electric Co. property, in 2010. Those arrays produce 1.8 megawatts of electricity.
That Pittsfield site marked the first time a utility operating in Massachusetts developed a solar facility.
Over the past two years, Kimball has logged many miles of travel through Western Massachusetts, as he led development of the new solar farms from his headquarters in Hartford, Conn. In the Pioneer Valley, new sites will operate in East Longmeadow, East Springfield, Greenfield, Hampden, Hatfield, Ludlow, Montague, Springfield, Southampton, Southwick and Sunderland.
When plans for a Savoy facility surfaced and secured town approvals, the developer was to be the nonprofit Citizens Energy Group. But that outfit sold its interests to Eversource.
Of the 19 new Eversource solar sites, as many as five were begun by other parties, Kimball said.
After land was cleared and panels mounted in Savoy, the project still needed to line up connections with the grid.
"It takes a lot of time to get a site like this connected," Kimball said. "We were lucky enough just to be able to connect in to the wires there."
Down on Route 8A, the new facility connected with existing lines able to carry 23,000 volts.
Up at the site, which is surrounded by security fencing, black photovoltaic panels were warming up a bit, Kimball noted early Tuesday morning, the sun low on a tree-clad southern horizon.
He had brushed off a few of the panels to show them off. But across the expanse, in 10-degree weather, sunlight was plowing its way through 3 inches of light snow.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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