As the big utility company Eversource scouts locations across the state to generate solar power, Western Massachusetts has become a big player.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held Wednesday for the third Eversource solar facility in the city of Springfield, one of a half-dozen solar projects the utility company has under construction in western Massachusetts.
Eversource is increasing the amount of solar power it generates from 8 megawatts to a maximum of 70 megawatts statewide, under a plan approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.
" It is a significant expansion that will supply almost 10,000 homes with electricity from solar," said Michael Ausere, Eversource Vice President of Business Development.
He said the company estimates it will produce the solar power for about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour.
"We believe it is a very good deal for rate-payers," said Ausere. " When we look at some of the (private) projects that have been developed we've seen costs as high as 50 cents per kilowatt hour."
In addition to the two currently operating solar sites in Springfield, Eversource has one in Pittsfield, and a second site under development there. The utility is building other solar power installations in Ludlow, Lee, Montague and Sunderland. A large 6.6 megawatt solar array has been proposed in Dalton.
The sites where the new solar plants are being built have undergone a thorough inspection and analysis, according to Mark Kimball, the solar project director for Eversource.
" We look primarily at environmental impacts, but neighborhood is important, and also another criteria is how close is the site to the electrical distribution hookup," said Kimball.
The new 5.6 megawatt solar facility in Springfield is being built on an 18-acre site in an industrial park. It will have 18,000 solar panels. The other Springfield sites are a former brownfields property and a capped landfill.
Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city will collect almost $1 million annually in property taxes from the three locations.
" Obviously this is fantastic for the environment, but also for the bottom line of the city budget and the bottom line for our residents," said Sarno.
The Eversource solar project completes a decade-long effort to fully develop the Smith & Wesson Industrial Park, according to Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy.
" It has been very successful in the area of job creation," said Kennedy. " This last parcel of land had some wetlands and other issues in terms of building an industrial site, but it is ideal for a solar farm. So, we are very happy Eversource stepped up and we made an agreement with them."
Eversource is leasing the site from the Springfield Redevelopment Authority for 25 years at $105,000 per year, according to Kennedy.