First Wind, an independent U.S.-based renewable energy company, today announced that it has begun construction on 17 MWac of solar projects in the Massachusetts communities of Warren and Millbury. Representing the company’s first set of renewable energy projects in its home state and its first solar development, First Wind is breaking ground after it recently secured financing and finalized a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA) with the University of Massachusetts (UMass), as well as net metering agreements with the towns of Millbury and Orange.
“It is exciting that we are able to develop and build our very first solar projects in our home state of Massachusetts,” said Paul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind. “Massachusetts has led the way on renewable energy issues, and we are excited that we are able to add some clean energy projects right here in the Commonwealth, which will further enhance our growing portfolio of projects and customers in the Northeast. We are also very pleased to partner with UMass to deliver clean, renewable solar power to their campuses while delivering genuine economic benefits to the host communities and cost-competitive clean, renewable energy for years to come.”
First Wind’s solar project portfolio in Massachusetts will include a 3-MWac project in Millbury and a 14-MWac project at three sites in the town of Warren. The combined Warren projects will comprise the second-largest solar project in Massachusetts. Construction activities will be a source of economic activity for the local economies by creating roughly 85 construction-related jobs and driving spending with local businesses. The projects will represent a significant investment in Massachusetts and the communities along with millions of dollars in construction, materials and development costs.
Once the projects are online, First Wind will make annual tax payments to each of the towns, which will provide additional revenue to the communities — $130,000 in taxes annually for Warren and $50,000 annually for Millbury. First Wind has also committed to contribute conservation land within the host communities. Finally, First Wind will begin to include Warren in its First Wind Scholars program, providing a $3,000 scholarship every year to a graduating high school student from that community.
The majority of the power generated from the four projects will be delivered to the Lowell and Medical Center campuses of UMass via a long-term PPA. Through these solar projects, UMass will save more than $1 million in annual energy costs, or a total of more than $30 million over the course of the 30-year agreement.
The agreement is part of a larger UMass initiative to cut energy costs and reduce its carbon footprint, and it also supports the Commonwealth’s ambitious solar energy goals. After reaching the state’s goal four years early of 250 MW of solar energy installed in May 2013, Governor Patrick recently announced a new goal of 1,600 MW of solar power by 2020.
In addition to UMass, the towns of Millbury and Orange have agreed to purchase a smaller portion of the energy generated by the projects. Orange will realize more than $85,000-a-year in electricity savings, while Millbury will see annual savings of $110,000.
KeyBank National Association KEY -0.18% provided a construction and term facility loan for the project and U.S. Bank provided the tax equity.
“First Wind has a proven track record in their ability to execute strong and viable renewable energy projects,” said Andrew Redinger, managing director and head of KeyBanc Capital Markets Utilities, Power and Renewables Group. “We are pleased to provide the financing for their first solar energy projects.”
A traditional fossil-fueled facility in Massachusetts producing an equivalent amount of electric energy as expected from the combined Warren and Millbury solar projects would consume over 45,000 barrels of oil or over 13,000 tons of coal per year. The renewable power produced by First Wind’s solar projects will be the equivalent of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by over 19,000 tons annually or the equivalent of removing 3,600 cars from the road, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) Emissions and Generation Resource Integrated Database (E-GRID). The combined solar projects are expected to generate enough energy to power the equivalent of 3,100 Massachusetts homes.
Construction on the Warren and Millbury projects is being led by Borrego Solar Systems, Inc., one of the nation’s leading designers and installers of commercial and utility solar power systems. Construction began on the projects earlier this month and all four project sites should be completed and operating by June 2014.
The Warren and Millbury projects are the first solar projects that are part of the First Wind Solar Group. The First Wind solar effort was formed to explore potential development opportunities across the company’s current footprint in the Northeast, the
West and Hawaii. Currently, First Wind’s solar energy projects in Massachusetts are the most advanced with construction starting this month, but the company is actively looking at other opportunities in New England, Hawaii, Utah and Washington.
— Solar Builder magazine