Solar farm construction begins on top of re-purposed landfill

The solar panel field is expected to produce enough electricity for hundreds of R.I. homes

City & State Staff Writer
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Construction began on the state’s first capped-landfill solar field last month, the result of more than three years of planning. The former Forbes Street Landfill, which was in use from 1969 to 1979, will now house 13,000 solar panels and generate 3.7 megawatts of electricity — enough to power nearly 500 homes at one time.

The field should be fully functional and connected to National Grid, the state’s primary electricity provider, by October or November, said Chris Kearns, chief of program development for the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources. OER provided a $100,000 grant to help get the project started.

The East Providence City Council began the planning process for the project in 2010, bringing in CME-OCI Solar Power LLC, which had been involved in several closed-landfill solar projects in the past.

There were “a lot of variables” at play during the planning and approval process, Kearns said, adding that the project’s specific permits, licenses and environmental considerations were “new territory” for Rhode Island. Though Massachusetts and Connecticut have paved the way for capped-landfill solar development, Rhode Island has a “learning curve” to navigate, Kearns said.

Besides creating clean energy for the state, the field could boost the local economy. National Grid has agreed to pay the city 23.9 cents for each kilowatt-hour of energy as part of the 15-year contract awarded to the municipality in April. The city will also make nearly $5 million in revenue from leasing the land for the next 25 years. The solar field should be operational for at least 30 years, according to East Providence’s Solar Project Summary.

The project it is only one of the state’s proposed solar energy projects, Kearns said. “We’ve seen solar projects proposed in 25 of the 39 cities in the state over the last two years,” he said. “This one certainly won’t be the first or last.”

OER “plays an oversight role” in the construction and operation of renewable energy projects like the Forbes Street Solar Field, Kearns said. The organization works closely with National Grid, which must integrate the new energy into the existing electrical system.

Construction of the energy field was a collaboration among many different groups, including the R.I. Department of Transportation. The department saved the project $1 million through the donation of 250,000 cubic yards of clean dirt reclaimed from the I-195 reconstruction project. An additional grant of over $200,000 came from the Renewable Energy Fund, and the city’s Department of Public Works worked on the landfill using a bulldozer donated by the East Providence Police Department.

CME Solar estimates the total cost of production will range between $40 million to $50 million.

There are plans for eventual expansion into the site’s remaining acreage, which could hold enough panels to produce more than five additional megawatts of electricity.

“It’s an exciting project,” Kearns said. “We look forward to seeing the final product.”

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