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Mass DOT: Solar Farms Would Save State Millions In Energy Costs

BOSTON (CBS) - A lot of commuters have wondered about what's going on next to the Mass Pike on the Framingham-Natick line. Well, we learned that it's part of a new project to use state land to generate electricity, and it's about to begin doing just that.

"Over the course of the last couple of years we have been exploring, I guess what you'd call underutilized land," says Tom Tinlin, acting highway administrator for the Mass. Dept. of Transportation.

Underused land like the state-owned parcel near the Pike's exit 13.

"We were thinking, what a great opportunity that would be to do solar farms, solar facilities to produce clean energy," Tinlin says.

Mass Pike Solar Farm
The solar panel farm on the Mass Pike near exit 13 in Natick. (WBZ-TV)

So, the Mass DOT is leasing 10 parcels of land next to state highways to a private company called Ameresco. That firm will build and operate small solar farms on the sites, which means no taxpayer dollars are in play.

"That would produce, at the end of the process, enough energy to power up almost 1,300 homes," says Tinlin.

Mass Pike Solar Farm
The solar panel farm on the Mass Pike near exit 13 in Natick. (WBZ-TV)

The one near exit 13 is expected to start generating power in April.

Four other sites in Plymouth, Natick and Framingham could produce power by the summer. Another five locations, including Salisbury and Stockbridge, could come on line by the fall.

Mass DOT will buy the electricity at less than half the current cost.

"Over the 20-year life of the contract we're looking to gain, whether it be in savings or in revenue, some $15 million for the taxpayers," says Tinlin.

The department estimates the projects will reduce CO2 emissions by 7 million pounds.

"You don't get that opportunity every day, and we'd be foolhardy not to take it," Tinlin says.

Additionally, the 10 sites that are part of the plan today, Mass DOT is also looking at three other state-owned locations that could become solar farms in the future.

For more information about the project, visit the Mass DOT website.

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