for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont
How far have we come – and how far do we have to go — to meet our needs with solar?
By George Harvey
It is surprisingly difficult to answer even the simple question of what solar farm is largest in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Every time we think we have found it, we find something new. The best we can hope for is to convey a good idea of how fast our energy production is changing — in front of our eyes.
We can be sure that the largest array in these three states is in Massachusetts, though we cannot be sure which of several it is. A number are being installed that could set records, each in its turn. We can only be sure no records are likely to last long.
In August of 2012, the 4.5 MW (megawatt) Westford Solar Park was said to be the largest privately held solar array in New England. Soon after that, a 5.75 MW array was completed in Canton. A 6 MW array was completed in September of 2013 in Berkley, Massachusetts, but one being built in Carver may be larger.
The state had a total of 129 MW of installed solar in 2012, with the hope of reaching 250 MW by 2017. In the spring of 2013, applications for net metering had already greatly exceeded 250 MW, so the goal was changed. Now, Massachusetts is aiming for 1600 MW by 2020.
The number of small installations in Massachusetts is impressive. Every municipality has at least one system. The small town of Harvard had over seventy applications for solar installations in 2012, alone.
New Hampshire has historically lagged behind Massachusetts and Vermont in solar installations, because the state still does not prioritize solar power. The Renewable Energy Standard requires a minimum of 24.8% of all power from renewable sources by 2025, but only anticipates 0.3% coming from solar. Nevertheless, New Hampshire does have a good incentive program, and we expect solar to become more common in the Granite State in the near future.
The largest solar array in New Hampshire is probably a 525 kW system on the roof of a parking garage at Manchester Airport. Among other installations, a 127 kW system at Keene State College is matched by one of the same size at Colby Sawyer.
Many installers have been hard at work. Clay Mitchell of Revolution Energy in Portsmouth told us they had built a number of solar systems, including a 141 kW array at a Favorite Foods store in North Conway and a 100 kW system at Exeter High School. Craig Bell of Solar Source in Keene expects there may be up to several hundred kW’s of solar installed by his company in 2014. PAREI has put up over 60 rooftop arrays, totaling over 270 kW.
Many New Hampshire businesses have turned to solar out of sheer passion for renewable energy. An example is Wire Belt Company of America, in Londonderry, whose solar productivity and energy efficiency is ever-increasing. Their 2010 rooftop solar installation totaling 99.3 kW is currently being considered for expansion on their recent energy efficient addition. The owner, David Greer, explained, “It is a way to help our country’s economic situation. Plus, I just love the stuff!”
There are over 3,300 net-metered systems in Vermont. There is a 2.2 MW cap to the size of qualifying systems, though nearly all are much smaller than that. The combined capacity of the net-metered systems is 34,650 kW, a figure that dwarfs all of the largest arrays in New England.
The Vermont SPEED program lists nine solar arrays of 1 MW or larger, and seven of these are listed as being 2.2 MW, one being the South Burlington Solar Farm. More arrays of this size or slightly larger are coming on-line including a number of new systems in Rutland alone. Integrated Solar is building a 2 MW array in Brattleboro.
SunGen1 in Sharon was 2.2 MW, but had more added and now is 3 MW or larger. Other, larger arrays are in the works. The Vermont Electric Cooperative has announced that it intends to build a 5 MW system in its territory.
The Overall Picture
It seems that no matter how big a solar system is, there is another, larger one in the works. And solar systems get installed so quickly, that it is hard to keep track of what is finished and what is on the way. Clearly, however, most of the solar PV capacity is in small rooftop systems added together. It might be fair to say the largest system of PVs consists of a distributed combination of all the small ones.
Solar power does not yet supply more than 1% of our demand, but its rate of growth is astonishing, often as high as 65% or more per year. It is clear that solar will a major factor in our power capacity within this decade.
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