Five solar projects sprouting along the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 3 are not the largest in the state, but they are among the most visible and striking examples of a solar industry that has grown more rapidly than most policy makers and energy specialists ever imagined.
As tens of thousands of commuters whiz by, the gleaming rows of solar panels in locations like the Interstate 90 service plaza in Framingham, an embankment on the turnpike near Natick, or a rest area on Route 3 in Plymouth show how solar power has been integrated into daily life. The Framingham and Natick projects are already generating power; when the other sites in Framingham and Plymouth become operational later this month, the five solar farms will produce a combined 2,500 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power about 500 homes.
The highway solar farms are part of an initiative launched two years ago by the state Department of Transportation that will build at least 10 solar projects on unused department property, eight of them along the Mass Pike. The remaining solar farms will be built next year near Stockbridge and in Salisbury off of Interstate 95.
Ameresco Inc. in Framingham, a publicly traded energy management and procurement company, is developing the solar projects under a contract that pays the DOT nearly $100,000 a year in land leases and allows it to buy electricity at reduced rates from Ameresco. The lower power costs could save the state $15 million over 20 years.