PowerOptions entering the solar energy market

May 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The state’s largest power-buying consortium is entering the solar energy market, starting with four local colleges and schools that will add solar arrays to their properties.

PowerOptions of Boston, which uses the buying power of the consortium to negotiate electricity and natural gas prices for nonprofit and public organizations, will partner with SunEdison, a Missouri-based solar services company. SunEdison, which will build the solar arrays over the summer, will own and maintain the installations and sell the power to the schools and colleges.

Endicott College in Beverly, Bristol Community College in Fall River, Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School in Franklin, and Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury will each sign contracts to buy the solar-generated electricity for the next 20 years.

“If we are going to be advocating responsibility when it comes to the environment, we have to walk the talk,” said Richard Wylie, president of Endicott College, which will host a 943-kilowatt array on its campus. “This is a statement that there are effective ways to maintain stable costs and to be environmentally appropriate.”

PowerOptions decided to go into the green energy business after hearing from customers that they were interested in buying power from renewable sources, but were overwhelmed by the choices and the number of companies offering programs, said chief executive Cynthia Arcate.

“Things were sort of like the Wild West in Massachusetts,” Arcate said. “There were lots of solar developers knocking on doors making all sorts of proposals.”

So PowerOptions got involved, vetting proposals from solar companies, choosing SunEdison as the vendor, managing legal questions, and settling on prices. The resulting contracts fix prices at or below today’s market rate for utility-delivered power for 20 years. Utility rates average 14.38 cents per kilowatt hour in Massachusetts, according to the US Energy Department.

If the cost of conventional power goes up, institutions participating in the solar program could save millions, according to PowerOptions estimates.

“The green energy is nice, but I’ll be honest with you, the [projected] $1.8 million savings over the 20 years is even nicer,” said Stephen Dockray, superintendent-director of Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School, where a planned 1.3-megawatt system will provide about 85 percent of the school’s electricity.

When the 20-year contracts expire, the schools will have the option of renewing the agreement, buying the system from SunEdison, or having the equipment removed, said Stephen Raeder, the solar company’s director of sales.

The benefits of the new installations are more than financial, said Sarah Creighton, director of campus sustainability at Endicott. The highly visible solar array, which will provide about 7 percent of the campus’s energy needs, will act as a symbol of the college’s dedication to the environment, she said.

“The students were very articulate about wanting to see renewable energy,” she said. “We have done a great deal of energy efficiency over the past five years, but it is hard for students to see that.”

In total, the four new arrays will create 6 megawatts of capacity, adding to the swift growth of solar power in the state. Earlier this month, Governor Deval Patrick announced that the state reached its goal of installing 250 megawatts of solar capacity four years earlier than the original target date of 2017. A new goal of 1,600 megawatts by 2020 has now been set.

“It’s really been over the course of the last two to three years that we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of installed solar,” said Mark Sylvia, commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources.

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