NStar seeks approval to develop 62 MW of solar projects in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities will conduct an Aug. 15 public hearing at its offices in Boston on a June 30 application from NSTAR Electric and Western Massachusetts Electric (each d/b/a Eversource Energy) for approval to develop 62 MW of solar projects.

Eversource wants to construct, own and operate up to 62 MW of solar facilities in Massachusetts. It is requesting pre-approval of cost recovery associated with the range of estimates for upfront capital installation and future capital replacement costs, as well as ongoing annual operational costs, including annual system operations and maintenance (O&M) for site maintenance, oversight, reporting and analysis, property taxes and other costs associated with the solar arrays it may develop, purchase, own and operate over the lifetime of its operation.

Although the companies may incur expenses for real estate associated with constructing and operating certain solar facilities, the Companies are not seeking pre-approval for real estate costs. To the extent that the companies incur such costs to implement the Solar Program, they will submit them to the Department for recovery in future Solar Program cost recovery filings.

To date, Eversource has successfully deployed 8 MW of solar photovoltaic facilities in Western Massachusetts. WMECO began implementing the WMECO Solar Program during the fourth quarter of 2009 and completed its last project in 2014. In 2010, WMECO constructed and commissioned a 1.8-MW solar facility located on a brownfield property in Pittsfield (the “Silver Lake Facility”). In 2011, WMECO constructed and commissioned a 2.3-MW solar facility on a brownfield property in Springfield (the “Indian Orchard Facility”). In 2014, WMECO constructed and commissioned a 3.9-MW solar facility located on a landfill property in Springfield (the “Cottage Street Facility”).

These facilities were developed under the terms of the WMECO Solar Program initially approved by the Department in August 2009 to include up to 6 MW of solar capacity, which was subsequently expanded to 8 MW with Department approval in September 2013.

Through this Petition, Eversource proposes to maximize the amount of solar generation that it is permitted to develop, construct, own and operate. Each electric distribution company is authorized to build up to 35 MW of solar facilities with Department approval. Given that WMECO has already constructed 8 MW of solar generation, Eversource is proposing as part of this Solar Program to deploy 62 MW to reach the maximum allowed for its two combined companies of 70 MW.

A number of potential solar sites have been picked out

Camilo Serna, Vice President Strategic Planning and Policy for Eversource Energy Service Co., said in supporting testimony that Massachusetts has backed substantial growth in solar generation in recent years adding over 1,000 MW of new solar photovoltaic nameplate capacity since 2010. The majority of this new capacity is associated with unregulated generation supported by net metering policies and solar RPS requirements.

Serna said that Eversource has conducted two major initial screens to develop an inventory of potential sites for ground-mounted solar photovoltaic facilities. In the first screen, Eversource performed a table-top review of 464 parcels of land that are owned by Eversource in Massachusetts. In this initial screen, Eversource identified close to 100 parcels that seemed to have the basic favorable attributes for installing multi-MW ground-mounted solar. These parcels either were single sections of land or several sections that when combined, produced a usable location to install solar PV. These parcels also had one or more distribution circuits either passing through it or were directly adjacent to it.

In the second screen, Eversource reviewed the roughly 100 parcels identified above and conducted an initial topography and environmental impact assessment leveraging professional subject matter experts in this space. This second assessment screened sites for topography characteristics (i.e., is it too hilly), wetlands, endangered flora and fauna, and PV capacity. This screen yielded 60 remaining eligible sites.

Eversource plans to rely on construction companies with proven experience in deploying utility-owned solar projects in Massachusetts and the U.S. Serna wrote that Eversource will use a robust, open, fair and transparent competitive process to select the construction firms. Eversource intends to select several vendors and sign an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract with each selected vendor.

Current estimates are that site clearing and road construction will be completed in the first quarter of 2017 and that array construction will be completed throughout the rest of 2017. A formal detailed construction schedule will be established as a requirement of the EPC contract for each site.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.