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Grants enable R.I. energy initiatives

Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 announced 16 recipients of federally funded renewable energy grants totaling $2.7 million last Thursday. The grants, awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are expected to generate jobs in the state and reduce electricity bills by 10 to 70 percent for residents affected by the projects, wrote Melissa Chambers, senior communications and market development coordinator for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, in an email to The Herald.

"Under the leadership of Governor Chafee and the General Assembly, expanding energy resources is a high priority in Rhode Island," she wrote. "By expanding our energy resources, we can diversify our portfolio while investing in energy projects that support long-term price stabilization and reduction."

The Economic Development Corporation issued a proposal request Aug. 25, asking for project suggestions that would, among other things, create jobs, reduce energy costs and increase use of non-imported fuels. A seven-member team with representatives from the development corporation, the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources and the governor's office reviewed 39 applications before settling on the final list of grant recipients.

The development corporation mandated that all 16 projects be completed by March 1, 2012. If project coordinators do not meet the deadline, they must return unused grant funds to the state, Chambers wrote.

The city of East Providence, one of the finalists, received $100,000 from the state to construct a solar-power system at the former Forbes Street Landfill. According to the proposal, the project will cost between $40 and $50 million dollars and will eventually generate about 10 megawatts of solar power.

The grant will cover the costs of pre-development engineering studies, such as determining the feasibility of using solar energy from the plant to power the city's wastewater treatment facility and some of the city's energy grid, said Jeanne Boyle, director of planning for East Providence. The council does not expect to have the power plant completely built by the March 1 deadline, but the first phase of the project should be finished by next year, she said.

Another grant recipient, the Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University, received $123,244 to conduct a "Net-Zero Energy" project. The project will investigate the possibility of using alternative energy sources at the state's 53 public high schools, said Ray Thomas, associate director of the center.

The project will be led by the BRITE team, a partnership between Bryant University and the software company RITE-Solutions Inc., whose members include Bryant professors, entrepreneurs and Rhode Island politicians.

The group chose to focus on high schools because they are larger and more centralized than other education facilities, Thomas said. "It's a good opportunity for either solar or wind or geothermal or some aspect of the renewable side to be put into play."

With the help of various professionals and software programs, the BRITE energy team will travel to each of the high schools starting in mid-November to assess factors like the schools' roof areas and general structures. The team will also look at the wind speed around the high schools and conduct other studies to determine the feasibility of using solar, wind or geothermal power at each school, Thomas said.

He said the group expects to have all assessments completed by the March deadline, when it will present its findings to the school districts and the state. The evaluations will provide a "road map" to increased energy efficiency in the schools, Thomas said.

Professor of Engineering Kenneth Breuer, who has researched renewable energy technologies, said he thinks the state is making good use of the limited resources available, but added that the University could do more to support such projects.

"I'm a little disappointed that Brown is not further at the forefront of green energy. We would be a great campus to explore more green energy applications," he said. "I would like to see some more visible projects taken by the University on green energy."


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