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Solar plant promises electricity to 300 homes

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Solar plant promises electricity to 300 homes

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PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts – On land poisoned by toxins from a long-gone manufacturing era, more than 6 500 solar panels face the south sky, capturing the sunlight of a late autumn day in the Berkshire Mountains.

They’re ready to deliver power to New England.
The Western Massachusetts Electric Co. site in Pittsfield, New England’s largest solar project, promises to produce enough electricity for about 300 homes starting later this month. That’s a tiny fraction of what the region needs to run computers, lights, TVs and everything else utility customers take for granted.
But the $9.4 million solar plant and an even larger project planned for Springfield next year are expected to spur job growth in the solar industry and eventually make the cost of solar power competitive with the oil-burning furnaces that are common in New England.
“What we’d like to do is open a new sector,” said Carl Frattini, director of business development at Western Massachusetts Electric.
The cost to install smaller scale rooftop solar panels is about $8,800 per kilowatt, he said. However, increasing the efficiency of production with large projects reduces the cost to about $5,200 per kilowatt, he said.
Ian Bowles, the state’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said that although solar power represents less than 1 percent of electrical use in Massachusetts, it is not subject to price volatility common with rising and falling oil and natural gas prices. So the rates consumers pay are more stable.
Solar power still is far more expensive than fossil fuels, but its rates are down by almost a half in just a few years, he said. It’s on a trajectory toward parity with traditional sources of energy in the region.
“Then it will really take off,” he said.
But don’t get rid of that oil-burning furnace yet.
Philip Jordan, head of Green LMI Consulting, a Mendon, Mass., work force and economic consulting firm, said technology still has far to go to push down prices. Renewable energy depends to a certain extent on government spending, which could fall as public officials close budget deficits, he said. (AP)