A flurry of solar energy projects are underway across Rhode Island. East Providence, Westerly, West Greenwich and the Quonset Business Park have substantial solar fields planned or underway. Here is a look at the two largest:
Quonset Business Park. A solar photovoltaic (PV) system covering 400,000 square feet atop two adjoining industrial warehouses is on track to be the largest of its type in New England. The project, owned by a Boston-based solar developer, expects to break ground in January and is scheduled to be completed in about two months.
The solar field has a 2.34-megawatt-rated capacity, meaning its optimal power produces electricity to power 500 homes. The project is about the size of three and a half football fields, and three times as large as the solar array at Toray Plastics, another tenant at the business park.
The project requires 8,000 polycrystalline panels, a technology that has been in use since the early 1980s.
“It’s a fairly large solar project with a fairly small community impact,” said Palmer Moore of solar energy developer Nexamp, from its Providence office.
Despite its size, the arrays will be unnoticeable to passersby, as the panels lie close to the roof and sit 10 feet from its edge.
The privately funded $7 million project will recoup some of its costs through a 30 percent federal tax credit. The project also will participate in the state’s distributed generation pricing program. Nexamp will make lease payment to the owner of the building, Davisville Realty LLC.
The solar-generated electricity will feed directly into the power grid. National Grid buys the power from Nexamp for $23.699 per kilowatt-hour for 15 years. The contract is one of the first power-purchase agreements derived from Rhode Island’s 2011 renewable energy laws. The legislation requires National Grid to offer power-purchase contracts in order to entice development of renewable energy.
Moore said his company finds the distributed generation program beneficial for financing as well as an incentive to do more business in Rhode Island. “The stability of the Rhode Island program is probably its biggest advantage,” he said.
The popularity of the distributed generation program — 15 solar energy contracts vs. 1 wind contract — has pushed down pricing for new solar contracts. Lower fixed pricing lowers the cost to consumers who subsidize the premium paid for solar and wind projects through their utility bills.
“You’re seeing in real time the market forces in action to bring down pricing,” Moore said.
In recent months, installers of smaller projects, like those for homes and small businesses, have complained that the distributed generation program excludes them. But Moore like others in the industry are optimistic that the incentives for small projects are forthcoming.