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Reaping the sunshine and revenue; Central Mass. towns, UMass system to benefit from First Wind works.

Byline: Mary MacDonald

MILLBURY --- On a 15-acre hilltop, nearly 15,000 solar panels face the south. Within eight weeks, the solar field will begin feeding renewable power to the existing electrical grid, providing discounted electricity for Millbury schools and other public buildings.

First Wind, which broke ground in September, completed installation of the solar project last month. Construction workers are now leveling the soil below the solar panels and will soon plant grass, but otherwise the work is finished, said Neil J. Kiely, First Wind director of development for New England.

The project will provide an electrical discount, or credit, for the town of Millbury worth $110,000 annually, according to information provided by First Wind. The company also expects to pay about $50,000 annually to Millbury in property taxes, Mr. Kiely said.

In addition, the Millbury field plus three other fields First Wind is constructing in the town of Warren will benefit Lowell and Medical Center campuses of the University of Massachusetts, according to First Wind. Under long-term power purchase agreements, the energy savings is worth about $140,000 to UMass.

The solar agreement was a great deal for Millbury, said Town Administrator Robert J. Spain. The town gets a discount on its electrical bills under a 20-year agreement involving both National Grid and First Wind. The town pays First Wind 65.5 cents for every $1 it is credited by National Grid, for using the alternate energy, Mr. Spain said.

"It's good for the planet. It's good revenue for the town,'' he said. "And obviously, it keeps the land out of development.''

Mr. Kiely said the Millbury site is the Boston-based renewable energy company's first solar project. To date, First Wind has completed 14 wind power projects on the Northeast and West Coast and Hawaii with combined capacity of more than 1,000 megawatts -- enough to power about 300,000 homes in the U.S. a year.

Mr. Kiely said the company is actively looking for new locations.

The Millbury project is capable of generating 3 Megawatts AC (alternating current), or 5,000 megawatt hours of electrical current a year, enough power for 600 homes.

First Wind also is constructing a larger solar project, generating 14 Megawatts AC, on three sites in Warren that will provide energy savings to the UMass system as well as to the town of Orange, while the town of Warren will receive $130,000 a year in property taxes.

In Millbury, the solar panels occupy what used to be overgrown farmland on a road off West Main Street. A farmhouse and a few trees were removed for construction, but otherwise, the solar panels were installed directly over the old fields, said construction manager Jeff D. Newcombe.

About 70 people were employed through the construction phase in Millbury.

The solar panels, which contain silicon wafers, face due south and are tilted at a 25-degree angle to best absorb the sun's energy. That energy is converted on site into alternating current and fed through underground cables into the existing electrical network, Mr. Kiely explained.

By mid- to late-May, the solar project will begin operations. "We're pushing some power on to the grid now, through the testing phase,'' Mr. Kiely said.
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Title Annotation:Business
Author:MacDonald, Mary
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 4, 2014
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