A new report highlights the 30 fold growth in solar power in Massachusetts in just five years. The report ,released Tuesday, by an environmental advocacy group ranks each of the state’s cities and towns for solar power development. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports
Western Massachusetts is leading the state with the most solar energy installations and the largest amount of solar generating capacity according to data compiled by the Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center. The report was released by the group’s regional director, Johanna Neumann at a news conference in Holyoke, which is turns out is the solar capital of western Massachusetts.
Solar power systems have been installed in all but 18 of the state’s 351 cities and towns according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Municipalities in western Massachusetts occupy top spots in the four measures of solar energy development used by Environment Massachusetts in its report.
While Holyoke was second in the state for overall solar capacity with 4.5 megawatts, Northampton and Amherst tied for 4th statewide in the number of solar installations, with 81 independent arrays. Hawley had the most solar installations per capita and the town of Sheffield produces the most solar power per capita.
Holyoke Gas and Electric Company hosts the largest solar array in New England with more than 14, 500 solar panels with a generating capacity of 4.5 megawatts. General manager, James Lavelle says solar accounts for about 2 percent of the municipal utilities’ electricity
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said solar helps enhance the city’s reputation.
Solar power advocates say its growth in Massachusetts did not come about by chance. Bill Stillinger, who manages Pioneer Valley Photovotaics, based in Greenfield, says government policies have helped solar flourish.
Stillinger says his small workforce, which installs solar power systems for homes and businesses, has quadrupled in ten years. A study by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center found there were more than 64 thousand people working in a clean energy sector in Massachusetts in 2011, a six percent increase from the year before.
Environment Massachusetts , in its report on solar energy, called on legislators to raise the cap on net-metering, which is a program that lets homeowners and businesses sell solar power back to utility companies at market rates.
\ The report also urged state officials to set a new short term solar energy goal of 1 gigawatt of solar power systems installed by 2017 . They say the state is well on its way to the current target of 250 megawatts.