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MassDOT signs on to Highway Solar Photovoltaic Noise Barrier project

The project will be the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is launching a solar technology that may change how citizens look at U.S. highways, railways, and other transportation facilities. This highway solar noise barrier project will be the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2015, Ko-Solar and its partners approached MassDOT to discuss the concept of highway photovoltaic noise barriers (PVNBs). After comprehensive coordination and conceptual design work, MassDOT agreed to this pilot PVNB project along Interstate 95 in Lexington, Massachusetts. The project involves retrofitting an existing noise barrier on Route 128 into a PVNB that will be built and financed in partnership with Solect Energy, a Massachusetts-based solar energy company. MassDOT will leverage its membership in PowerOptions, the largest energy-buying consortium in New England, for the procurement and contracting of the project. Solect Energy will finance, install, monitor, and maintain the project. MassDOT plans to use the results of the pilot, including information about noise impacts, maintenance, cost, and community perception, to determine the feasibility of PVNB applications elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Progress on the project suffered some delays in part because of changing Massachusetts Solar Development Incentive Programs (REC to SMART).

MassDOT vetted about two dozen potential sites for the PVNB pilot, ultimately choosing the Lexington location. The selection of noise barrier, which is on the north side of the highway, is 3,000 feet long, 20 feet tall, and is constructed of reinforced concrete. The retrofit PV system capacity is expected to be 637.5 kW DC, and 802,000 kWh will be generated annually. This represents the equivalent of supplying 120 homes per year with electricity and will avoid roughly 1.4MM tons of CO2 emissions.

Input on the project was solicited from abutters and other Lexington residents through letters, a public meeting, and meetings with other stakeholders such as Sustainable Lexington, a local advocacy group. Stakeholders raised concerns including potential changes to noise levels on both sides of the highway. Ko-Solar and its partners responded to all questions at the public meeting. MassDOT held a referendum for abutters to vote on the pilot project, and 100 percent of the abutters in support was required to advance the project. An outcome of the public input process was to require that noise level monitoring be part of the pilot program.

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