Energy

Ground Broken on Largest Community Solar Project

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The 12.44-megawatt, ground-mounted array in North Smithfield, R.I., will be the largest of the state’s six community solar installations. (TurningPoint Energy)

NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. — If you find solar energy too expensive, don’t have a suitable roof, or just aren’t sure you’ll be living in one place long enough to enjoy the return on investment, then community solar maybe your path to renewable energy.

Community solar, or shared solar, allows electricity customers to buy power from a single renewable-energy project. In 2016, the General Assembly set aside 30 megawatts of electricity capacity for renewable power for National Grid residential customers.

The last of six projects broke ground Nov. 13 in the yard of a home on Pound Hill Road that abuts the 200-acre site for the King community solar project. The 12.44-megawatt, ground-mounted array will be built on tree- and brush-covered land deemed unsuitable for other development.

The cluster of properties sit between a sand-processing company and the Landfill & Resource Recovery Superfund site. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management have been decontaminating the 28-acre site since the early 1990s. The inactive landfill once received residential, commercial, and industrial waste. Groundwater contamination halted the construction of new homes on land where the solar facility will be built.

“This project is the highest and best use of this land,” said Laura E. Stern, co-CEO of New Jersey-based Nautilus Solar Energy LLC, the owner of the project.

The King solar facility, which gets its name from one of the former landowners, is the last and largest of six authorized community solar projects in the state. Nautilus also owns a 3.3-megawatt array that broke ground in Burrillville in September. Stern said the company is looking to build more solar energy in Rhode Island.

The state’s other community solar projects are in Cranston, Foster, North Kingstown, and West Greenwich.

The King community solar facility is expected to be completed by next year, but Rhode Island National Grid customers can sign up now for its renewable energy through a website run by Arcadia Power.

About 1,700 customers are expected to tap into the electricity from the King project. Homeowners, apartment owners, renters, and low-income families can participate. Net-metering credits are matched to a customer’s electricity use. Any credits not used for a given month are applied to the following billing period.

The array is expected to operate for 35 years, according to its developers. It was originally developed by Denver-based TurningPoint Energy then sold to Nautilus.

The project’s construction, engineering, and other work is expected to create an estimated 100 jobs.

By all accounts at the groundbreaking, the state community solar program has been a success. The General Assembly or the state’s Public Utilities Commission must authorize a new allotment of electricity for the community solar program to continue.

“This is where we need to go and we need go even faster,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said at the event. “It’s not only necessary to meet the needs of climate change but it will create jobs and help Rhode Islanders.”

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  1. the plants and animals that lived on the "tree and brush covered land" might not agree that an industrial facility is the "highest and best use" of the land. Seems to me the expansion of solar energy is to be associated with increasing ugliness and loss of habitat.

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