Mass DOT Goes Solar

Cruising the Mass Pike, one is struck by large, roadside solar arrays. They’re at exits, near service plazas, and on embankments. They’re in towns like Framingham, Natick, and Stockbridge. On my way to the Cape a few weeks ago, I saw another array in a cloverleaf off Route 3, Exit 5 in Plymouth. These MassDOT Phase 1A and Phase 1B “alignment solar” projects excite me. As a society, we seek unused land for power generation. We’re farming photons. Massachusetts roadsides are now multi-tasking!

At least one valiant effort to initiate similar roadside projects in California failed due to CalTRANS resistance. The agency’s legal department held up a project due to the cost of “air space leases,” which couldn’t be subsidized in any, way, shape, or manner, and a removal provision that gave CalTRANS the right to removal at any time in the 20-year contract term without retribution. Things are different in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts – the Bay State, the Old Colony State, and the Codfish State – the MassDOT Office of Energy, Technology & Management and Highway Division are working collaboratively. The three-year Solar PV Energy Program is slated to sunset in 2016. Its goal is to build ground-mount solar generation facilities at multiple state-owned properties within the state highway system.

The program was driven by a vision and the desire to create energy savings, generate lease revenue, reduce GHGs, and support the Commonwealth’s green and clean economy. The program began with a program design and site feasibility study. A solicitation was issued to solicit best-value services to design, construct, commission, finance, operate, and maintain solar PV energy generating facilities. MassDOT selected Ameresco, Inc. to serve as the project developer. The two parties executed a master lease agreement and power purchase agreement in November of 2014.

MassDOT chose a “public-private partnership” business model to implement the 6 MW program as there was no upfront cost to the State. And Ameresco is fully responsible for the development, design, construction, commission, operation and maintenance of the solar facilities for the life of the contract. Its costs will be recovered over time in the form of solar renewable energy credits, federal tax credits and depreciation benefits, and electricity sales.

In this win-win, MassDOT has committed to purchase 100% of the solar power from Ameresco at rates lower than current utility rates. Given the PPA rate and the State’s virtual net energy metering policy, the project is projected to generate $15+ million over the contract period. MassDOT will also receive annual rent payments for the developer’s leasing of the land supporting the facilities.

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