Colorado-based community-solar garden developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC) announced today (Jan. 15) that it’s building new community solar gardens in Massachusetts. The solar gardens will allow the majority of Massachusetts residents and businesses to harvest the benefits of solar—even if they can’t put it on their roof or in their yard—by purchasing a part of the garden’s panels and then using the power produced to offset some or all of their electric bill.
While at least one other company in Massachusetts has developed a community solar garden in the state, CEC is going big. “We’re the first that’s making it widely available on a large scale,” said CEC President Paul Spencer.
The company will offer customers of the state's largest utilities—Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO), National Grid (NGrid), and NSTAR—a chance to buy into the solar gardens. Spencer estimates that this covers 85 percent of the state’s population.
“Massachusetts has a virtual net-metering program or tariff that allows us to go ahead and do it under all three utilities,” Spencer said. In other states the company operates in, like Colorado or New Mexico, the offerings are usually limited to customers of the local utility.
The company has been working on a number of projects in Massachusetts, among them the 996 kilowatt NGrid Southeast Solar Array 1 in Rehobeth and the 38 kilowatt WMECO Solar Array 1 in Huntington. Spencer said that construction on the projects is set to start momentarily and that the first of its projects in Massachusetts should be complete in early spring.
Customers can purchase as little as one solar panel or module in a project or enough to offset all of their electric use, according to CEC. The price of the systems will be $4.45 per watt for National Grid and NStar customers and $4.30 per watt for customers of WMECO before rebates.
Spencer also noted that the state offers a 40 cent per watt rebate for customers who buy into a community solar garden. But there’s a catch: “The rebate is only available up until the point when the projects are interconnected,” he explained. In addition, residential customers buying into a community solar garden will receive the same rebates and incentives as rooftop system owners, including Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) rebates.
CEC is among the solar garden leaders in the U.S., having built the first in the country in 2010 near El Jebel, Colo. The company pioneered community-owned solar model, in which customers purchase (instead of lease) their panels in a shared array.
CEC is already operating in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont, and now Massachusetts—with 14.1 megawatts of solar capacity built or under construction. A figure, Spencer said, it plans to dwarf in 2014. “We have 40 megawatts of projects across the country being built this year," he said, with an estimated 170 megawatts of community solar projects in the pipeline for 2014.