Solar Panels Appear in Springfield

Western Massachusetts Electric Company has finished building the largest solar energy facility in New England. And the 8,000 solar panels sit in an unlikely location – a residential area in Springfield.

Down a winding road in the Indian Orchard neighborhood, past a housing project and several single-family homes, is a 12-acre industrial site that now contains row after row of shiny, silver solar panels. On this gloomy day, WMECO president Peter Clarke talked about their collective productivity.

"It puts out every single day, no matter how heavy the cloud cover is. It's just different levels. Yesterday on a sunny day at this time of year it was putting out about 1.5 megawatts. Today it's probably in the fractional megawatt."

At maximum production the solar panels can power 500 homes, Clarke says. WMECO spent about $12 million  constructing the facility. Under the Green Communities Act of 2008, Massachusetts electric utilities may own up to 50 megawatts of solar generation. Clarke says his customers are likely to see only a small increase in their bills – about 30 cents a month on average.

"This adds about .037 cents per kilowatt hour onto the bill currently. Generally what we do know is that right now renewable energy is more expensive than traditional forms of energy. But if we don't invest in it today, we won't improve the cost structure going forward."

Clarke says the fenced-in solar panels sit nearly 8 feet off the ground, can endure harsh weather, and have a lifespan of about 25 years.