A Big Wind Player Gives Solar A Go

First Wind, then solar.

Yep, the Boston-based wind power company First Wind – which has developed and operates 16 wind projects totaling 980 megawatts of capacity – this week said it has begun work on solar projects in Massachusetts. And these are big projects: A 3-MW array in Millbury and three arrays totaling 14 MW in Warren.

wind and solar

image via Shutterstock

So what’s going on here?

Well, there’s good demand for solar in Massachusetts: UMass will be buying most of the solar energy produced at these sites, will save more than $1 million in annual energy costs with these projects, according to First Wind.

The university is also a tool for the state to leverage in reaching its goal of 1,600 MW of solar installed by 2020. As of May, the number was 250 MW, so 1,600 MW seems a long way off – but keep in mind that 250 MW goal was met four years earlier than originally expected. Millbury and the town of Orange will also

Meanwhile, there are factors that make First Wind a  First Wind is a Massachusetts company with no power plants in Massachusetts, where wind has proven difficult to make a wind project happen. Back in May, Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president of state affairs at the SEIA, told the Boston Business Journal that First Wind’s sense of the political lay of the land in Massachusetts and its renewable energy financing experience made it a natural to slide in solar.

The money guys seem to agree. “First Wind has a proven track record in their ability to execute strong and viable renewable energy projects,” was the way Andrew Redinger, managing director of KeyBanc Capital Markets Utilities, Power and Renewables Group, put it in a statement. “We are pleased to provide the financing for their first solar energy projects.”

That points to the real role First Wind’s new Solar Group plays in these solar projects; it’s not desin and installation, which in the case of these initial projects is being led by Borrego Solar Systems. It’s in pulling together the deal. The company thinks it might be able to do more of the same elsewhere, focusing on states in New England as well as Hawaii, Utah and Washington, all of which are home to First Wind wind projects.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.