Rhode Island Steps up its Solar Generation in a Big Way

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Governor Chafee of Rhode Island announces the state’s participation in the New England Solar Cost-Reduction Partnership and flips the switch on New England’s largest rooftop solar project.

Governor Chafee of Rhode Island has flipped the switch on New England’s largest rooftop solar project. The 2.4MW system is located atop two buildings in the West Davisville portion of the Quonset Business Park. The solar project is expected to generate approximately 3 million kilowatt-hours annually, enough to power roughly 500 homes. Consisting of 8,500 panels, the project covers an area the size of three-and-a-half football fields.

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GOV. LINCOLN D. CHAFEE (center), Quonset Development Corporation Managing Director Steven J. King (left), and Nexamp Inc. Chairman and CEO Zaid Ashai (right). Photo: PBN Staff

The $7 million project was developed and built by Massaschusetts-based Nexamp, and was made possible through several renewable energy laws passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 2011. Those measures included, among others, the Distributed Generation Standard Contracts program, overseen by the Rhode Island Department of Administration’s Office of Energy Resources.

The owners of the two buildings, Michael and Steven DiCenso, are leasing the rooftop space to the owner of the solar project, True Green Capital, who then sells the energy produced to National Grid, the region’s utility. 

“This is a great day for Quonset, for the environment, and for Rhode Island – and I am thrilled to be here to officially help ‘flip the switch’ on this worthwhile effort,” Governor Chafee said. “Perhaps most importantly – this project shows how our legislature and Rhode Island can work to support domestic renewable energies, reduce environmental impacts, diversify state energy sources, and stimulate economic activity all at once.”

Quonset Business Park continues to be a key driver of job creation and economic growth in Rhode Island. The business park is home to more than 175 companies, with 9,500 full-time and part-time jobs, and its Port of Davisville is one of the top ten auto importers in North America. The solar rooftop is one of several renewable energy initiatives taking place at the business park, including one of the largest solar land arrays in the state, which is being built by Toray Plastics.

“This is another terrific example of the innovation and growth we’re seeing every day at Quonset Business Park,” said Steven J. King, PE, managing director of the Quonset Development Corporation. “The QDC and its board approved this project as it was a unique way to utilize existing rooftop space, did a good thing for the environment, and brought additional construction jobs to the state of Rhode Island.”

Governor Chafee also announced that Rhode Island has joined a regional effort called the New England Solar Cost-Reduction Partnership, which is aimed at reducing non-hardware costs of PV systems, also known as soft costs. The initiative, coordinated by the nonprofit Clean Energy States Alliance, has received $1.5 million in competitive funding under the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge II program.

The partnership will help strengthen the solar market in the five-state region. As the lead agency for Rhode Island’s involvement with the project, the Rhode Island Department of Administration’s Office of Energy Resources will collaborate with agencies from the four other states, municipal officials, and members of the solar industry. The partnership aims to identify areas of opportunity to reduce solar soft costs and to tackle a range of barriers to PV deployment, including permitting and interconnection challenges, the need for new financing tools, and planning and zoning rule variations. Some of the states will also work to promote model solar zoning and implement Solarize group purchasing programs.

In addition to the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, the lead state agencies for this project are the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (MA DOER), the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning (NH OEP), and the Vermont Public Service Department (VT PSD).

“Regional clean energy initiatives are vital in playing a role in generating in-state job growth and helping to promote carbon-free local, renewable sources of energy,” Governor Chafee commented. “This project paves the way for an affordable solar market in Rhode Island and sends a message beyond our borders that our state cares about the environment.”

Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee that oversees funding for the U.S. Department of Energy, commented: “Diversifying Rhode Island’s energy supply is a smart investment to help boost jobs and protect our environment.”

“Information sharing among the states and better understanding of the needs of stakeholders will help us identify efficiencies, potential collaborative activities, and opportunities for reducing soft costs,” Warren Leon, Executive Director of CESA, said. “These states are all committed to the common goals of reducing the cost of solar electricity and building a strong regional market. We are excited to be partnering with them for this project.”

In addition, according to an article on Providence Business News, the R.I. Economic Development Corporation recently awarded $280,000 to local energy-management firm VCharge under the state’s Renewable Energy Fund, after approving grants late last month for two new solar energy projects by Teknor Apex of Pawtucket.

The Teknor Apex grants, each in the amount of $22,500, will fund two 30-kilowatt solar arrays at the company’s plastics manufacturing facility. Beaumont Solar of New Bedford will design and install both systems, which cost $122,500 each.