First Wind expanding into solar power business

After years of building wind farms, mostly in Maine and Hawaii, Boston-based developer First Wind said Monday it is expanding into solar power, and has already started projects Warren and Millbury.

The move will allow First Wind to tap a booming solar market here, spurred in large part by the state’s aggressive renewable energy policies and incentives.

First Wind’s solar installations — 3 megawatts in Millbury and 14 megawatts in Warren — are the company’s first projects in Massachusetts. Together, First Wind estimates, they will generate enough electricity to power 3,100 homes.

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“Massachusetts has led the way on renewable energy issues and we are excited that we are able to add some clean energy projects right here in the Commonwealth,” First Wind chief executive Paul Gaynor said in a statement.

The University of Massachusetts has agreed to purchase most of the power generated by the solar installations under a 30-year contract, First Wind said. The electricity will be used at the university’s Lowell and Medical Center campuses, and is expected to save the schools more than $1 million a year. The towns of Orange and Millbury also will buy some of the solar power.

The Boston developer expects the projects to create roughly 85-construction related jobs, and provide revenue for their host cities. First Wind will pay $130,000 in annual taxes in Warren, and $50,000 a year in Millbury.

Both projects are scheduled to be operational by next June.