Massachusetts nonprofits get easier access to solar power

(iStockphoto)
(iStockphoto)

A 500-member electricity purchasing consortium has signed a deal with a solar developer to spur the development of small-scale solar generating systems in Massachusetts.

PowerOptions Inc., a group of nonprofits and government entities that spends $175 million on electricity and gas per year, has picked Solect Inc. of Hopkinton to lead its Small Systems Solar program. More than 45 nonprofits and governments have shown interest in installing up to 10 megawatts of solar, mostly on their rooftops, according to Cynthia Arcate, the group’s president and chief executive.

The deal gives nonprofits access to pre-negotiated solar development contracts with no upfront costs or maintenance fees, according to a PowerOptions news release. The new program with Solect allows nonprofits to add small systems, up to 300 kilowatts, and sell the power under a 20-year power purchase agreement. A typical private school might seek a 100 kilowatt array that could offset 10 to 30 percent of its electricity consumption, Arcate said.

“There’s tremendous opportunity out there for smaller projects that our large-scale solar vendor didn’t want to pursue,” Arcate said. “We’ve put together a very robust pipeline of projects.”

Since 2012, PowerOptions has helped housing authorities and schools develop 70 megawatts of solar capacity across Massachusetts, 25 megawatts of which are already installed, through its large-systems program run by the giant solar developer SunEdison, Arcate said. That program was available only for systems over 300 kilowatts, which typically require a large open space or giant amount of roofing area.

Although nonprofits and governments don’t pay taxes and can’t directly benefit from the federal solar tax credit, Arcate said investors who will finance and own the solar panel arrays can use the tax credits and share the benefits with the tax-free entities her group serves.