The Massachusetts utility-scale solar market starts moving

Last week was a watershed moment for the Massachusetts solar market.  Governor Deval Patrick joined Greenfield, MA Mayor William Martin and Paul Curran, Executive Vice President of Axio Power, in signing two contracts for the Greenfield Solar Farm – a 2 megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) project on Greenfield’s capped landfill.  Greenfield Community Television published a video of the event, which is available on their WEBSITE.

I am interning with AXIO POWER for the summer to assist with their solar projects in the Northeastern markets, with a specific focus on Massachusetts.  Prior to the announcement of the Greenfield Solar Farm, the only significant, larger-scale solar developments in Massachusetts were completed by the regulated utilities, especially National Grid.  Other commercial and residential projects have occurred, but on a smaller scale with higher installation cost, and therefore a higher cost for electricity.

Why is this a significant moment?  Massachusetts drafted the regulations for the Renewable Portfolio Standard’s Solar Carve-out during 2009.  The rules were ‘finalized’ at the beginning of 2010, and were amended slightly last month to avoid potentially lengthy litigation with TransCanada.  The full program is available on the MA DOER SOLAR WEBSITE, but here are some basic highlights:

  • The goal is to have 400 MW of installed capacity prior to 2020 (currently there is about 8 MW of capacity)
  • The regulation promotes distributed generation, with a maximum project capacity of 2 MW DC
  • There is a stated goal of “supporting residential, commercial, non-profit and public entities in developing solar PV”
  • And, the regulation requires that regulated utilities and competitive electricity suppliers (i.e. TransCanada, Con Edison, Constellation) procure an increasing portion of their electricity from solar PV until 400 MW capacity is reached.  The utilities do this by purchasing Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs).

The Greenfield Solar Farm will be the first project under the Solar Carve-out where the municipality runs a Request for Proposals (RFP), selects a developer and then purchases 100% of the project’s electrical output.  On the heels of this, other municipalities in Massachusetts have drafted RFPs and put them out to bid; decisions are due on some of these RFPs in the next few weeks.  So, while the Greenfield Solar Farm is not the first utility-scale PV project in Massachusetts, it marks the start of many years of strong market development in order to reach the 400 MW goal.  I am proud to be part of this process, and will use future blog posts to discuss the policy, development and financing associated with PV projects in MA.