Solar Farm Powers Up, Gives Boost to Ratepayers

The Landmark, by Patricia Roy, 7-10-13

Holden, Mass: A hayfield off Wiles Road has moved from one line of farming into another.|

The 15-acre parcel is a longtime holding of the Davis family, owners of Davis Dairy and Davis Farmland, once used to feed their cows. Today, the field is filled with nearly 10,000 solar photovoltaic panels, with a total capacity of 2 megawatts (AC), enough to fill the yearly power needs of 400 households.

Residents and local officials toured the facility, officially known as Sterling Solar LLC, on June 27, where electricity has been generated from the solar farm since January. Sterling Municipal Light Department is purchasing the power under a 20-year agreement.

The project is co-owned by Canadian Solar, a leading solar power company, and INDU Solar Holdings, a joint venture between subsidiaries of Duke Energy and Integrys Energy Services. Another entity, Community Energy Solar, developed the ground-mounted photovoltaic installations constructed by yet another company, groSolar.

Plans for the project had been in the works since 2011, said Sean Hamilton, general manager of Sterling MLD. Sixty-two vendors came through Sterling in the last two years looking to develop a solar facility, he said. The companies involved in Sterling Solar LLC were chosen because they represented the best deal for the town’s ratepayers, Hamilton said.

Once shovels were in the ground, it took only 10 weeks to complete, even though crews battled winter weather and holiday schedules. At times, there were up to 80 workers on site, giving a little boost to the local economy. Since the January opening, the facility has generated 6.1 million kilowatt hours, Hamilton said.

The panels are under warranty to operate for 20 years, and still be at 80 percent of their capacity at that time.

The project creates clean energy, and could also be considered “green” in financial ways. It’s a plus for electric ratepayers since SMLD will pay around four cents per kilowatt hour for power from the project. The town will also get $22,500 a year as a payment in lieu of taxes for the facility, according to town administrator Terri Ackerman.

The facility has minimal impact on wildlife in the area, and finally, when the 20-year agreement is up, the project can be “picked up and moved out” so the field can revert to agricultural use, Michael Rivers, chairman of the municipal light board, said.

State Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr. (D-Clinton) congratulated the town on being “the tip of the spear” in progressive energy practices.

Speaking for his family members leasing out the property, Douglas Davis said that when Community Energy Solar approached the family about the solar farm, “it was a no-brainer.”

The Davises had just completed a solar roof project at Farmland and were enthusiastic about being part of clean, quiet energy project, he said. The family has long produced crops, he said. First there was hay, then corn and apples and now, electricity.