Massachusetts uses contaminated land for solar

On Oct. 26, Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECo) celebrated its completed installation of the largest solar-energy facility in New England. The facility, positioned on eight acres in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a 1.8 megawatt project, part of the utility company’s plan to install 6 megawatts by 2012.

Massachusetts has ambitious solar-power plans that make it viable and essential that utility companies like WMECo pursue large solar-power projects.

“The Patrick Administration has a goal of installing 250 megawatts in Massachusetts by 2017. To date, most of the solar projects have been small [private] rooftop mounted photovoltaics, so Massachusetts was eager to have utilities get into [solar] so that we could not only stimulate the solar industry in Massachusetts, but also to prove that solar power would indeed be a workable solution,” said Sandra Ahearn, WMECo company spokeswoman. “We have very aggressive goals for renewable energy targets in Massachusetts, and without large scale projects of this kind, we just won’t be able to get there.”

But in such a small and populated state such as Massachusetts, it is difficult to find space for large solar farms that require lots of square footage and open skies.

“That’s the beauty of large solar farms like this,” said Ahearn. “They can sit on top of challenged sites, you know contaminated fields, capped landfills, whatever they may be. “There’s just not a good economic alternative for these plots, and solar makes perfect sense because it can sit on the top and provide not only tax dollars to the local community but also energy from the farm.”

The Pittsfield facility is located in a contaminated section of the William Stanley business park, a former General Electric transformer factory.

“This particular parcel of land had some contamination, so we were able to build the facility there,” said Ahearn. “We are in the process of negotiating a second site now and anticipate that that construction will take place early next year, so in fact, the six megawatt plan may be completed well ahead of our 2012 deadline.”

Pictured: WMECo's new solar array sits atop the dirt that once housed a transformer factory. Optimus Prime could not be reached for comment. Image courtesy of