SOMERS — Electricians in bright yellow coats have been tending to rows of solar panels in recent days, patching together a complex network of equipment that will be the largest of its kind in the state when it’s completed in about a month.
But the project — dedicated Friday at a gathering of company and public officials — won’t hold the top spot forever. A project four times the size of the Somers solar center that is planned in Sprague will knock it to second when it comes online in three years.
These massive projects, as well as the thousands of smaller-scale installations on commercial sites and residential rooftops, are signs that solar is finding a welcome home in Connecticut. Prices are dropping. Availability is expanding. And the investments, by energy companies like Dominion, seem to be making sense.
“We will do 10 times the in-state renewables in 2013 than was being done in 2010, before Gov. [Dannel] Malloy took office,” energy Commissioner Dan Esty said in an interview, adding that those renewables are largely solar and fuel cells.
“It’s becoming a booming area of economic activity,” he said. “There are beginning to be hundreds of jobs in this installation business.”
Dominion acquired the Somers Solar Center, on Route 83 near Cedar Knob Golf Course, last month. The energy company, which also operates the state’s only nuclear power plant, Millstone Power Station in Waterford, is pushing deeper into renewable projects around the country.
“This is what happens when you have good government working with industry,” Somers First Selectman Lisa Pellegrini said Friday to a gathering of townspeople, Dominion employees and state and federal lawmakers.
About 50 of the project’s 100 acres are covered with 23,150 Kyocera solar panels, and Dominion executives say there is potential to grow. The panels are anchored to a metal bracing attached to a motor that tilts the panels throughout the day to maximize efficiency.
A state government program jump-started the giant solar installation, selected for a power purchase agreement with the state’s utilities through a competitive bid process along with a solar farm in East Lyme.
“Connecticut’s federal and state officials should be commended for finding innovative ways to bring clean, renewable energy to consumers,” said said J. David Rives, Dominion’s senior vice president of power generation.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said the project is a great example of state efforts adding weight to federal investments in clean energy, one of which — the investment tax credit — provides a 30 percent credit for solar projects and expires at the end of the year.
“It is an example that we should grab onto nationally,” Courtney said.
The Somers Solar Center, developed by CleanPath and Heliosage, is the third large-scale solar installation Dominion purchased this year, following larger projects in Georgia and Indiana. The energy company is also converting three Virginia coal plants to biomass plants, as well as bringing online Bridgeport’s fuel cell park.
Connecticut Light Power, a division of Northeast Utilities, will buy the power from the Somers project under a 20-year agreement.