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Massachusetts-based wind-farm developer First Wind has announced that the company’s first solar power projects, comprising 17MW capacity, have begun construction in the company’s home state. First Wind secured financing and a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the University of Massachusetts (UMass) and agreements for net metering with two local towns, Millbury and Orange.

The projects will be located in the towns of Millbury and Warren, with a 3MW installation in Millbury and 14MW spread across three sites in Warren.

First Wind claims that around 85 construction and related jobs can be created by the projects, which will be built by Borrego Solar Systems and are expected to be completed and operational by June 2014. The plants will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of around 3,100 Massachusetts (MA) households, reducing yearly carbon dioxide emissions by around 19,000 tonnes.

The projects have been financed by a loan from KeyBank National Association with tax equity from US Bank. First Wind will pay taxes to Millbury and Warren each year, US$130,000 and US$50,000 respectively to each community.

The PPA agreement with the University of Massachusetts is part of the university’s plan to cut carbon emissions, with electricity supplied by the PV projects mostly powering the university’s Lowell and Medical Center campuses. Overall the university is also expected to save over US$1 million in energy costs each year through the projects. Millbury and Orange, the two towns that will also purchase electricity from the PV plants, will save US$110,000 and US$85,000 in electricity costs each year respectively.

Deval Patrick, governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has committed to the goal of installing 1,600MW solar power generating capacity by 2020, with the commonwealth having surpassed a previous target of 250MW by May 2013, four years earlier than anticipated.

Paul Gaynor, First Wind chief executive officer said: “It is exciting that we are able to develop and build our very first solar projects in our home state of Massachusetts, which has led the way on renewable energy issues, and we are excited that we are able to add some clean energy projects right here in the Commonwealth, which will further enhance our growing portfolio of projects and customers in the north east. We are also very pleased to partner with UMass to deliver clean, renewable solar power to their campuses while delivering genuine economic benefits to the host communities and cost-competitive clean, renewable energy for years to come.”