Massachusetts Authorities Outline Plans To Support Large-Scale Solar Power Projects

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Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Thursday the state's plans for supporting the development of large-scale solar photovoltaic power installations through a new statewide entity operating in collaboration with the state's four investor-owned utilities: NSTAR, National Grid, Unitil/Fitchburg Gas & Electric and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. (WMECo).

The Green Communities Act, which the governor signed last July, mandates that each of the utilities develop up to 50 MW of solar PV generating capacity by the end of 2012.

In turn, the attorney general has agreed to work with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and its Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to identify a ‘unified and streamlined mechanism to serve consumers in all four service territories and develop the most cost-competitive solar projects,’ the EEA says. All plans will need approval from the Department of Public Utilities (DPU).

By statute, the attorney general's office serves as the ratepayer advocate in proceedings before the DPU. In June, the office responded to WMECo's proposal to develop solar generation – the first of its kind under the Green Communities Act – by raising the statewide pooling concept as a way to provide more solar power generation to a wider customer base at a lower cost.

As part of a settlement reached in June between WMECo and the attorney general's office and supported by DOER, WMECo will deploy 6 MW of solar power while agreeing to explore the statewide pool for future development.

‘Through this important partnership with the attorney general, the ratepayers and the electric utilities will see a race to develop the best, lowest-cost, large-scale installations,’ says Ian Bowles, EEA secretary. ‘This is a novel approach, and I'm confident it will accelerate clean energy development in the commonwealth.’

A new joint entity will be responsible for identifying, developing and financing large-scale solar power generation projects in the territories of the four investor-owned utilities. Instead of each utility developing new infrastructure to deliver solar power in its own service territory, the new joint venture will be charged with developing the most cost-competitive projects statewide through a series of procurements for large-scale (100 kW or larger) projects.

The competitive procurement process will identify the most cost-effective projects for solar PV installation on commercial and industrial rooftops, municipal and state facilities, and other sites suitable for solar energy development. These procurements will build current experience being developed with bulk procurements for up to 25 MW of solar power projects by DOER with funding under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the EEA explains.

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