The Boston Globe: Westford Solar Park spurs jobs and sparks the imagination

John Murphy | May 06, 2012
The first visitors to New England’s largest privately owned solar energy park nearly missed it. Nestled on a plateau more than half a mile from the road, the state-of-the-art array is hidden from view, surrounded by woods at the edge of the old Fletcher Quarry.

Restless after a long bus ride from Cambridge, the fifth-grade students from Shady Hill School were eager to see firsthand how the sun’s energy was being harnessed. But the meeting proved elusive. There was no sign marking the site of the Westford Solar Park. The only clue they were in the vicinity of something big were the small signs posted along the meandering dirt driveway that warned: “Video surveillance in use on these premises.”

After a quick call to confirm they were in the right place, the bus made its way to a chain-link fence that wraps around a steep embankment covered with rocks. The bus passed the security check point and toiled slowly up the hill as 35 pairs of eyes, suddenly alert, strained to see. At the crest of the knoll, the curious visitors got their first glimpse.

“Mouths dropped,” recalled Cali Johnston, 11, whose father, Jeff, a principal with the firm that built the array, arranged the visit. “We were amazed at how huge it was. As far as the eye could see, there were panels. I knew it was going to be a giant site but when I saw it, it was so much bigger than I had ever imagined. It was incredible.”

This sea of shimmering glass, still under construction, stretches across a 22-acre site, on land that once was part of the adjacent century-old granite quarry. In its first year, the solar park is expected to produce 5.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity. When fully operational, the facility, developed by Cathartes Private Investments and operated by the solar power company Nexamp, Inc. of North Andover, will produce up to 4.5 megawatts of energy, enough electricity to power more than 600 homes.

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