By Bonnie Adams
Westborough – For months, Westborough residents have looked curiously at the array of glass panels lined up in neat rows in what was formerly a wooded Milk Street lot and wondered at what exactly they were looking. It is not a holding spot for a retail establishment selling glass panels, it's not related to the trains that run by on a regular basis, nor is it a top-secret science experiment. Rather, it is a 240-kilowatt solar farm – the latest innovation of local entrepreneur Bruce Forestall.
The project was both designed and installed by SolarFlair Energy Inc. of Framingham.
On May 11, SolarFlair officials, along with representatives from the Corridor Nine Chamber of Commerce, invited a number of their customers, staff and associates to the site for a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour; the site had actually gone live in February, but winter in New England is not the best time of the year, of course, for an outdoor event.
On the day of the ribbon cutting, Jeff Constantine, the director of operations for SolarFlair, noted that it was ironic that the day, which had started out gloomy and overcast, had turned sunny by late afternoon.
Interestingly enough, he added, the warmth of the sun is not a significant factor when considering if one should install solar panels. Rather, he said, it is the sun itself.
“We don's need warmth,” he said. “Just the sun.
But unpredictable winter weather can affect how the panels are actually installed, Matt Arner, SolarFlair's president, said.
“We installed the panels slanted on concrete blocks, so they would be off the ground in case of lots of snow accumulation,” he said. “This helps the snow and ice to just slide right off, too.”
The solar farm includes 856 Suntech STP-280 solar panels, which were manufactured in China, and one SGI 266 inverter built by Lawrence-based company Solectria Renewables. The project took about eight months from start to finish, and went live Feb. 18.
The solar farm is not Forestall's first venture into using solar power. Several years ago, he had solar panels installed on the roof of his car wash business, which is located on Route 9 in Westborough. The new project, he anticipates, will generate energy for other businesses and residential developments he owns in the area. Ultimately, he also hopes to be able to sell credits back to power companies.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Forestall told those gathered that he first thought of developing a solar farm after seeing a similar one in Florida, where he spends a lot of time. After the success of his car wash endeavor, he decided to go forward with the new project.
“Matt and the SolarFlair team did a first-class job,” he praised.
Forestall noted that the state and federal incentives he received for the $2 million project were important factors as well.
The Milk Street project was such a success, he added, that he is now looking for yet another site where he hopes to build a solar farm that will be four times larger.