The state became a bit less dependent on fossil fuels this week with the completion of a 902-panel solar power array on the roof of Iron Mountain Inc.‘s document storage facility off I-91 in Windsor.

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DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty climbed six flights of stairs and a ladder to reach the 105,000-square-foot roof with Iron Mountain officials and others on Wednesday for a ceremonial ribbon cutting. The installation of the panels — which will generate 313,760 kilowatt hours of electricity per year and cover about 70 percent of the building’s electricity needs — came about through the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credit Program (ZREC).

Doug Hardy photo
Iron Mountain Inc. on Poquonock Avenue in Windsor, Conn. (Doug Hardy photo)

The project partnered Iron Mountain Inc., a worldwide information management company, with Sun Edison, a Missouri-based solar energy developer with offices in seven states and 15 countries.

Sun Edison submitted a bid for the project to the DEEP in 2012 and completed the installation over a six-week period this year. It’s one of 25 bids awarded to Sun Edison through the ZREC program, according to Fred Zalcman, Sun Edison’s Managing Director for Government Affairs, Northeast States. Zalcman said that although the company does not have an office in Connecticut, most of the design and engineering was done at Sun Edison’s regional office in Pennsauken, N.J. and the company hired Connecticut contractors to do all the installation work. He said six of the 25 ZREC projects are either done or under way, and the company has also worked in Connecticut with Staples, Kohls, Whole Foods, AT&T, and others.

According to Samantha Joseph, Iron Mountain Inc.‘s director of corporate responsibility and sustainability, the panels and their installation were paid for through a power purchasing agreement with Sun Edison. Joseph said Sun Edison fronted the cost of the equipment and installation in return for Iron Mountain Inc. agreeing to buy the electricity generated by the panels from Sun Edison for 20 years.

George Roebelen, a vice president for Iron Mountain Inc., said the company is planning to install solar panels on a neighboring building in Windsor next as part of a plan announced in May 2012 to add solar power to eight document storage facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. The company says it has nearly 1,000 facilities around the world with ample roof space for collecting solar energy, and it plans to make use of that space for solar power generation as part of a strategy to lower long-term utility rates and meet its goals for environmental sustainability.

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In a conference room before the ribbon cutting, Joseph presented a short timelapse video of the work as it progressed on the roof. (right)

According to Iron Mountain Inc., the 313,760 kilowatt hours per year are the equivalent of taking 46 cars off the road, conserving 25,000 gallons of gasoline, or creating enough electricity to power 33 homes for a year.

Esty was excited about the project, which is one of more than 90 that have been planned through the ZREC program.

“For me, to see a project come to fruition is really incredible,” Esty said, adding that the Malloy administration has provided DEEP with the framework necessary to use new, market-based tools like the ZREC program to get some of the best prices in the nation on electricity from renewable sources.

Esty also said Connecticut’s electricity costs have dropped about 12 percent over the last three years, while prices continue to rise in other states. In light of the 12 percent decrease, DEEP officials say the ZREC program, which is funded through a ratepayer surcharge of less than 1 percent, is money well spent because the program leads to the development of more solar power generation, which in turn drives down costs for everyone.

Aside from the ZREC program, Esty said the DEEP is trying to help lower the price of investment in renewables by facilitating long-term power purchasing agreements before solar arrays or wind farms are even built.

Esty said that in September, DEEP facilitated the purchase by CL&P and United Illuminating of $2 billion worth of electricity over 20 years from a pair of large-scale renewable energy projects where the companies have yet to build their plants.

One is the Number Nine Wind Farm, which will generate 250 megawatts a year and be built in Aroostook County, Maine. The other is the Fusion Solar Center, a 20 megawatt solar photovoltaic system that will be located in Sprague and Lisbon here in Connecticut on land primarily owned by the Connecticut-based Fusion Paperboard Company.

Esty said the $2 billion being invested by CL&P and UI works out to just under 8 cents per kilowatt hour — a rate he described as among the best yet achieved in the renewable energy market.

According to DEEP Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Kragie, with signed, long-term customer contracts in hand, companies planning to build renewable power plants are better equipped to finance new construction, and prices will continue to drop as more solar arrays and wind farms start adding electricity to the marketplace.

Meanwhile, aside from moving the state closer to meeting its energy portfolio goal of 20 percent renewable by 2020, the construction of new renewable power generation systems also relieves pressure on the traditional power grid during peak demand. Kragie said one of the cost drivers associated with the traditional power grid is the need to keep supplemental power plants available and operational for those peak periods.

In some cases, Kragie said, those plants only run for only a few days per year, kicking on during peak periods, but there are costs associated with maintaining them and often they are plants that operate on “dirty” technology, such as oil-fueled electricity, etc.

Kragie said projects like Iron Mountain and others through the ZREC program serve to decentralize power generation and diversify the mix.

“We’re delivering some of the lowest priced renewable results in the country despite being in New England, which has relatively low solar intensity,” Kragie said.