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Green Light for More Solar Power

The switch is now on at the third solar power project supported by UMass Chan Medical School through a program known as “net metering.”

With some 9,800 solar panels spread over 12 acres in Williamsburg, Mass., the latest project can generate approximately 3 megawatts of electricity by leveraging photons from the sun. The medical school is buying 70 percent of the energy produced through a net metering credit agreement with the remaining output to be purchased by other local and state entities.

“We are pleased to continue doing our part to support solar as a feasible, sustainable component of our regional energy mix,” said John Baker, associate vice chancellor of facilities management at UMass Chan.

Neither the building design nor the open space at the Worcester campus can support a significant solar array. So to do its part as an institution, the medical school worked closely with the University President’s office to craft long-term agreements to support more than 10 megawatts of solar-generated power from arrays developed in other locations. Competitive Energy Services LLC advised the medical school and the University President’s office on each of the three solar projects.

The first of the projects, a 2.5-megawatt facility in Palmer, Mass. developed by Major Energy and Greenhouse Solar started producing electricity in December of 2014. The second project, a 6-megawatt solar farm in Warren, Mass. built by First Wind (now SunEdison) went online last June. The Williamsburg project was developed by Solar City and went live at the end of February.

Under the Massachusetts public entity net metering program, UMass Chan is assigned the meters at the solar farms. As the power produced by the solar arrays is distributed to the electrical grid for use, the meters spin backwards. UMass Chan gets a credit on its monthly electric utility bill based on the meter readings and pays the developers for the solar power at a reduced amount. The program is expected to save the medical school millions of dollars in power costs over time.

On the sustainability and environmental impact front, by enabling the generation of over 10 megawatts of solar power from the three projects, UMass Chan is supporting projects that will avoid burning the equivalent of 20,000 barrels of oil or 5,000 tons of coal, and preventing about 10,000 tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere each year. The three solar arrays can generate enough electricity to power approximately 1,800 homes.