solar rhode island
The West Kingston solar project (URI photo/Nora Lewis)

A huge public-private solar development is advancing across three towns in Rhode Island.

The University of Rhode Island (URI) and the local towns of South Kingstown and Narragansett created the South Kingstown Solar Consortium, whose goal is to develop a solar project that will generate economic benefits for all three partners while boosting the amount of renewable energy flowing into the state’s electric grid.

In the works for more than three years, the project will eventually cover 267 acres of land in West Kingston, South Kingstown and West Greenwich. Of the 42 acres at the West Kingston and South Kingstown locations, 28 are non-farmable, capped waste-disposal sites, where the panels will be installed on ballasted platforms so the capped material remains undisturbed.

On Thursday, URI and its private, municipal and state partners held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the West Kingston and South Kingstown sites. A similar celebration is planned for the West Greenwich site when it becomes operational.

“With this bold initiative, URI and its town partners will see their energy costs reduced, and the entire state will benefit from a larger percentage of its electricity coming from a reliable, renewable, low-impact and clean source,” says URI’s president, David M. Dooley. “The university’s commitment to this project reflects our values as a higher-education institution dedicated to decreasing our carbon footprint and contributing to a healthier global environment.”

The consortium solicited proposals from private developers to construct and maintain the solar farms at no net cost to the consortium members. It signed 25-year contracts with Kearsarge Solar to develop the West Kingston and South Kingstown sites and with Energy Development Partners (University Solar LLC) to develop the West Greenwich site.

The capacity of the installations will be 40 MW, which is expected to deliver 48,000 MWh of energy to the grid annually. This will help the state meet Gov. Gina Raimondo’s goal of having 100% of the energy consumed by state government supplied through renewable sources by 2025.

The initiative is a virtual net metering project, in which the energy generated flows into the electrical supplier’s grid, according to David Lamb, assistant director of facilities services and utilities at URI. State law requires that developers of such projects must be able to offload net metering credits to a public or quasi-public entity – in this case, the consortium members.

“We are supporting the development of renewable energy that will be supplied to the grid, and in turn, the consortium members receive credits that will reduce costs on their monthly utility bills,” Lamb explains.

URI expects to receive credits worth $1.2 million in savings annually on its electric bill when all sites are operational, according to J. Vernon Wyman, assistant vice president of business services at URI. As a consumer of more than 75 million kWh of electricity per year, URI has an estimated annual electric bill of roughly $9.4 million.

For the first 10 years of operation, the private developers receive renewable energy certificates (RECs) that they can trade or sell. The credits are non-tangible commodities, with each one worth 1 MWh of electricity generated from a renewable source. In the 11th year of the contracts, these RECs transfer to the consortium members.

“The value of collaboration through the consortium is the ability to manage our consumption and maximize the benefits for the members,” Wyman says. “It’s a great partnership with environmental and economic benefits for the consortium and the state.”

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