Two years ago Bruce Forrestall installed a $150,000, 30-kilowatt solar panel system at his Route 9 car wash and detailing shop in Westborough that ended up saving him about 35 to 40 percent on his annual energy costs.
It worked out so well that Forrestall is looking to expand his solar use in a big way.
Forrestall plans to build a standalone solar installation on Milk Street. The project is expected to cost $2 million and will produce about 240-kilowatts, or enough electricity to supply about 50 homes.
"I'm a developer," Forrestall said. "I had been looking at this property and was thinking about doing a residential project, but margins in construction are so small now, so I figured why not do solar?"
Forrestall expects to get about $500,000 of the project paid for through a federal stimulus rebate within 60 days of the system producing electricity, which he expects to be by the end of the year.
"The exposure is perfect," Forrestall said about the 5-acre site, which is located just off Route 135. "There are clear views to the south and no trees or buildings in the way, so it seemed like a perfect spot."
Forrestall has been working with Matt Arner, owner of SolarFlair Energy Inc., a Framingham-based solar management company with about 12 employees. Arner has managed most all of the project, from the site plan approvals to the state and federal applications and documentation. Forrsetall's project will be the largest privately-sponsored solar project in Westborough and one of the largest in MetroWest, Arner said.
"We're thrilled to have it," said Westborough Town Planner Jim Robbins. He said the town has set up a green committee to make the town more attractive to such green-energy investments and to qualify for grants through the state's Green Communities Act.
Patriot Place in Foxborough recently completed a 525-kilowatt solar panel project that has more than 2,000 solar panels.
When Forrestall installed his original solar project at Car Wash and Detailing of Westborough, the shop he owns at 126 Turnpike Rd., he used a now-expired Commonwealth Solar state incentive program. That reduced the costs from $150,000 to about $30,000.
This time, he's using stimulus grant funds that provide a rebate up to a third of the cost of a solar project. He's structured his financing agreements in such a way that he expects to be making money on the project the first year after it's built, he said.
Once the 900 panels are constructed Forrestall will supply the energy to the electric grid. The amount of energy he contributes will be credited to his account so that he does not have to pay for energy at his car wash, home or other residential developments he owns in the area. The rest of the capacity will be sold via renewable energy credits on an open market and purchased by utility companies, he said.
The project has already received local approval in Westborough, but it still needs final approval from the state Department of Transportation, which owns land abutting the property. He said he does not expect any issues with the approval, which will allow him to receive a building permit from the town. Construction could begin as early next month with the project completed in two months.
Arner said Forrestall's project will use solar panels purchased from Suntech Power Holdings Co., a Chinese solar manufacturer. Incentives by the Chinese government have drastically increased the amount of solar panels produced in the country, Arner said. Whereas a few years ago Arner said he would try to buy from American manufacturers, he said Chinese products are of similar quality and much less expensive now.
"Customers pay a pretty hefty premium to buy American now," he said.