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Mass. seeks to increase solar power

50 projects named to receive funding from federal stimulus

By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / March 27, 2009
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State officials hope to use millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding to add as much as 30 megawatts of solar power capacity at public facilities statewide, as early as this summer.

Ian Bowles, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said more than 50 potential projects have been identified, including the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and a waste-water treatment plant in Pittsfield. They would be built using money from several federal programs: the State Energy Program, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, and the State Revolving Fund for Clean Water and Drinking Water. State officials estimate that anywhere from $40 million to $100 million could be made available.

"This is the solar big bang," Bowles said. "This procurement alone would more than double the amount of solar installed in the Commonwealth."

James W. Hunt III, Boston's chief of environmental and energy services, said anything that can be done to increase the use of solar energy is a good thing.

"The city, the state, the BCEC have all been targeting what's the most cost effective way to deploy large-scale solar installations to reduce energy cost, reduce carbon impact, and put people back to work," he said.

The state unveiled its plans the same day the US Department of Energy said Massachusetts communities will receive a combined $42.2 million for energy efficiency and conservation projects through the federal block grant program funded by the stimulus bill.

Boston will receive $6.5 million, Worcester will get about $1.7 million, Springfield will get $1.5 million, and Cambridge will get just more than $1.1 million. The state energy office, meanwhile, will receive nearly $14.8 million.

Boston will likely use the money it gets for energy efficiency upgrades to homes and city-owned facilities, Hunt said.

Nationwide, the government plans to invest $3.2 billion in energy efficiency and conservation projects.

"It's another sign of a new day dawning," said environmental advocate Seth Kaplan, of the Conservation Law Foundation. "There's some real hope and some real money here to allow positive things to happen on lots of levels. The feds are directly spurring energy efficiency."

Currently, the state has just over 8 megawatts of solar capacity installed. But officials say that is expected to grow to 10 megawatts within weeks and could total 20 megawatts by year-end. Under a goal set by Governor Deval Patrick, the state is striving to reach 250 megawatts by 2017.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com.

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