My Visit to the Westford Solar Park

The Greening of Westford: Westford Solar Park
In early May I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Westford Solar Park in my hometown of Westford, Massachusetts.  I’m such a geek! But I sure wasn’t alone.  About 30 of us were giddy with excitement about being able to see this array.
The Westford Solar Park is New England’s largest privately owned solar energy facility.  Owner of the Solar Park, Cathartes Private Investments, partnered with Nexamp to build and operate the park.  The 4.5 Mega Watt array sits on approximately 20 acres, consists of almost 15,000 individual solar modules and is said to produce enough electricity to run approximately 600 homes.
It is a fixed array, meaning the panels do not move to track the sun’s movement.  When asked why, Nextamp’s Senior Vice President, Will Thompson said  “financially it doesn’t make sense”, siting high failure rates on the tracking mechanisms and little gain in power production.
This land was the site of the Fletcher Quarry for decades.  There was nothing else that could have been done with the land.  Talk about recycling!  This commercial venture, which generates so much solar power, was a perfect use. Another interesting fact is that this array does not require any personnel on a regular basis.  The solar park is monitored by Nexamp remotely.  If a problem arises, they can send someone to take care of it.
The energy is actually used by the businesses and houses adjacent to the park.  Electricity is electricity. Once the power is converted and fed into the existing power grid, it goes to the closest location it is needed.  Think of the businesses in that area.  Kind of cool to think your Chinese take-out or pizza was made using solar power.  OK, my geek is showing again.
What would be even better is if, during a power outage, the solar array could be left on.  Unfortunately, that isn’t the way the existing power grid works.  Everything must be shut down.  But hopefully this will be able to change in the future.
According to Westford Town Manager Jodi Ross’ April Newsletter, “I am pleased to report that our town just entered three agreements with Nexamp to purchase solar energy credits, which will reduce our electricity expenses by about $400,000 per year.”  On the tour we were told that these energy credits were being supplied from other projects, not the Westford Park itself.
Massachusetts has big plans for solar.  Governor Patrick set a goal of reaching 250 MW of solar production in Massachusetts by 2017.  Well, we hit that 250 MW this past May.  The Governor has a new goal of 1,600 MW by 2020.  Since 2007 the solar energy installations in MA have sky rocketed from 3 MW to 250MW !
I find it extremely encouraging that an investment group, Cathartes Private Investments, is looking to build renewable energy facilities.  Obviously, they see the financial potential.  And I love that!  Yes it’s good for the environment, but the majority of people don’t see that as a good enough reason,  unfortunately.  Good thing there are other benefits!
If you are interested in installing solar on your house, take a look at Sustainable Westford’s Solar Challenge. The initial consultation is absolutely free and you will receive a $50 gift certificate to use at the Westford Farmer’s Market this season.
Take a look around.  Are you seeing more solar panels and wind turbines?

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2 Responses to My Visit to the Westford Solar Park

  1. massclimateaction June 7, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    These kinds of facilities on little-value land (like old quarries and landfills) seem to be a no-brainer!

    Congratulations to Westford for hosting this project.

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