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Utility unveils solar project

Thursday, July 02, 2009
Business writer

LUDLOW - Even on an overcast day, the 48 new solar panels on the lawn of Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. were pumping out about 1.7 kilowatts, enough power to supply a typical suburban home.

"There are still some photons getting through," Michael A. DiMauro, principal environmental engineer for MMWEC and project manger. "It's like going to the beach on a cloudy day; it might not feel like it, but on a cloudy day you can still get a sunburn."

MMWEC unveiled a small-scale, demonstration solar project Wednesday at its Stony Brook Energy Center at the end of Moody Street in Ludlow. It's part of the company's push to help its member utilities take advantage of renewable-energy funding available from the state and federal government.

The solar project cost $70,000, offset by a $41,280 rebate from the state Commonwealth Solar program. The incentives are greater because MMWEC is a public entity and components of the system were built in Massachusetts: Evergreen Solar of Marlboro made the panels and Selectria Renewables of Lawrence made the inverter that turns direct current into alternating current.

On a sunny day, the panels can produce 9.6 kilowatts, or enough power for four to five homes. It's not nearly enough electricity to fully power MMWEC's office building.

"But it's a start," said MMWEC Chief Executive Officer Ronald C. DeCurzio. "And those little bits are going to add up."

Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. is moving into renewable energy in a big way on behalf of its 20 member utilities. That list includes municipal power departments in Chicopee, Holyoke, Westfield and South Hadley. The company has already helped provide solar generating equipment totaling 56 kilowatts in the towns of Ashburnham, Templeton, Princeton, Littleton, Middlebury, Pascoag, R.I., and Shrewsbury, DiMauro said.

There are other projects in various stages of planning including a 92 kilowatt project at Holyoke Community College and a 360 kilowatt project in West Boylston, DiMauro said.

MMWEC just closed Tuesday on financing for the $45 million 15-megawatt wind power project on Brodie Mountain in the Berkshire County town of Hancock. Construction should start later this year, said David F. Tuohey, the cooperative's corporate communications manager.

Sean P. Fitzgerald, MMWEC membership account manager, said he's meeting with member utilities all the time helping them take advantage of federal and state programs, including the federal stimulus, that can help them buy green energy. The utilities just don't have the staff to wade through the complex regulations.

"But there is tremendous customer pressure for green power," Fitzgerald said.

Jim Kinney can be reached at