Energy

Utility Wants to End Solar Canopies Pilot Program

The program was part of an effort to steer solar arrays to alternative sites on already developed properties

National Grid is looking to stop providing financial incentives for developers to locate solar arrays on parking lots. (istock)

WARWICK, R.I. — National Grid is seeking to end financial incentives for developers to add solar canopies to parking lots.

The electric utility, in its 2022 Renewable Energy Growth Program filing, has proposed eliminating its solar carport pilot program, citing rising costs and lack of benefits to ratepayers. The program, which began in 2020, is part of an effort to steer solar arrays away from forests and other open space and instead offer alternative sites on already-developed properties.

State energy officials oppose the move and have asked the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reject the program’s elimination. In a Jan. 5 joint letter, state Office of Energy Resources commissioner Nicolas Ucci and Distributed Generation Board chair Laura Bartsch wrote that the program “represents an important programmatic, policy, and market signal for investment in a specific resource type that is compatible with land use preferences and is entirely consistent with the 2021 Act on Climate.”

Environmental groups have asked the PUC to keep the carport solar program.

“The Renewable Energy Growth program was specifically created to drive in-state renewables development that reflects that actual cost to build, and to drive the market by developing specific types of projects,” according to a letter to the PUC from Sue AnderBois, manager of The Nature Conservancy’s Climate and Energy Program, and Priscilla de La Cruz, senior director of government affairs for the Audobon Society of Rhode Island.

According to an estimate from National Grid, financial incentives would have to increase up to 140 percent from current levels for the program to achieve enough benefit to justify the cost. Cost of materials for solar projects have risen considerably in the past year.

“We remain open to finding more opportunities to encourage even greater use of solar at both the residential and commercial levels,” said National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse in a statement. The utility pointed to a written decision from the PUC issued last year, which questioned the value of continuing the program after 2021.

Solar arrays in parking lots may be gaining ground as municipalities seek to limit facility construction and preserve green space. In November, the Warwick City Council voted to place a six-month moratorium on new solar array construction until the city could pass new solar-siting regulations. The city’s Planning Board voted last month to recommend the council change its zoning laws to limit solar construction to commercial/industrial areas and encourage private property owners to install solar panels on rooftops and build parking lot solar canopies.

“The public supports preservation of remaining forests, farmlands, and open space from solar development, which instead should be focused in developed commercial and industrial areas,” wrote the Planning Board in its advisory opinion.

A 2020 report by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Synapse Energy Economics Inc. showed that if covered by solar canopies, parking lots statewide could generate up to 1,060 additional megawatts of capacity for the electrical grid.

The PUC is expected to issue its final decision on the solar carport incentive and the rest of the Renewable Energy Growth plan in mid-March.

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  1. Are they considering eliminating the support for solar panels completely?
    .
    It seems that solar panels should primarily be installed over parking lots or roof tops. Such installations offer the benefit of dual use for the earth surface. Installation over natural terrain is a single use situation, thus not good conservation of resources.
    .
    It seems that the cost of installation over parking lots would/should be about the same as installation over natural terrain. True the installation over a parking lot requires a higher position for the solar panel, which means more steel in the structure, but conversely, a solar panel installed over natural terrain requires damage to the terrain and regular maintenance to control plant growth on and around the solar panel.
    .
    What are they thinking?
    .
    Move the Water! … https://youtu.be/bjHxkxRWAs0

  2. National Grid demonstrates that it is a criminal organization once again. Ecocide is a crime, and NGrid seems to want to kill the planet.

  3. National Grid isn’t happy fleecing the public. They want to sell to an out of state company that would hold us hostage to their demands for higher prices. We supposedly have a Public Utilities Commission that rarely if ever in the past fifty years has refused a rate increase. The game has been played the same way all this time.
    The utility asks for twice what it wants the PUC approves about half of what the utility requested and they get what they actually wanted and the PUC acts like the savior of the consumer by saying they reduced the Utilities rate hike by half.
    WE ARE NOT BUYING IT ANYMORE!

  4. National Grid cites “rising costs and lack of benefits to ratepayers,” as a reason to opposed solar arrays on parking lots.
    In other words, as long as everyone can get every single thing they want, cheaply and immediately, to hell with any long-term or hidden costs, like destruction of the earth, rising gap between rich and poor, slave-like working conditions in many countries, erosion of social safety nets, increase in gun violence and drug use. . . in other words, business as usual.

  5. A strikingly bad idea on National Grid’s part — and taken as it’s leaving. Hope the PUC rejects the idea.

  6. For years I have been advocating for Solar Canopies after seeing BCC in Fall River, Massachusetts https://vimeo.com/148492707 and just recently Medway, Massachusetts conducted a survey https://www.townofmedway.org/sites/g/files/vyhlif866/f/imce/u3713/solar_canopy_interest_survey.jpg, which results seem to support Schools having Solar Canopies. Meanwhile they already have a Solar rooftop at the their High School https://blog.mass.gov/energy/renewables/project-green-helps-medway-high-go-solar/ AND elsewhere.

    Caution:
    https://www.milforddailynews.com/story/news/fire/2020/09/04/medway-fires-blamed-on-overheated-solar-panel-cords/42409449/

  7. Such short-range, profit-driven thinking is in the interest of the utility’s bottom line. Who else’s bottom line is perhaps worth looking into. This is a “forehead slapper”!

  8. Can we replace this with a 25% RI state tax credit toward the cost of replacing your roof for solar? I think it’s a little silly that we’re paying to build these parking lot canopies. That money could drive a lot of roof replacements and a lot more solar uptake if used toward re-roofing.

  9. Solar on roof is not as good as solar over parking lot.
    .
    Before solar can be installed on a roof, the roof must be assured to be in good condition.
    What is the lifespan of a roof? What is the lifespan of a solar panel?
    One problem is that roof which is shaded is subject to moss growth, which shortens the life of the roof. Solar panels cause shade, so they will kill the roof resulting in premature replacement, which means taking up the solar array before the roof can be replaced. This is just too much effort.
    .
    Solar over parking structure is free of this problem. Plus, the shade is beneficial to the parking surface by reducing the solar degradation on asphalt. Plus, the shade is beneficial to the owners of the cars parked in the solar panel array shade: Less gas evaporation; Less heat inside of car on returning to it on a hot day; Less solar degradation of the plastics inside the cars.

  10. Seems to me the important thing here is oversight and scrutiny of the capital and operational costs. Are they accurate, how might they be lowered? The utility may have a financial incentive to NOT use this solution as it could reduce their profit. Or it may there may be unexpected project costs we should know about and try to mitigate.

  11. Amen, Jane Arnold. When calculating costs, Nat’l Grid only evaluates what it costs in the very near future, and when evaluating open space, the long-term cost of the habitat loss is never factored. Since it is hard to estimate that, I think we should simply assume an acre of RI forest pricelessly valuable.

  12. We need to continue, even enhance, any incentives to use sites such as roof tops, canopies, brownfields and other marginal locations for use as solar sites. Using open space, farmland and forested areas is counterproductive and only serves to remove and degrade the natural carbon removal system that these areas provide at little or no cost. There is also the continued benefit attributed to undisturbed land being able to absorb rainfall which contributes to groundwater supply and limits runoff.

  13. Sad that all decisions are based on cost analysis. Zero value placed on preserving habitat, providing shade for cars, efficient use of space, doing the right thing, saving the planet, etc.

    But I think the take away here isn’t whether they should be built, it’s that the utilities don’t want to deal with it. They will need to be privately funded and have the power sold to the grid, just like homeowners have been doing.

  14. We’re being green washed by people poised to make trillions of dollars on CO2 fear mongering. The money would be better spent fixing the #1 cause of global warming, the dying oceans that permanently sequester most CO2, feeds billions and creates most our oxygen.

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