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University announces plan to offset all campus electricity use

Initiative to create solar power facility in North Kingstown, wind power facility in Texas

The University has launched its sponsorship of two renewable energy projects, which should collectively offset 100 percent of on-campus electricity use.

Announced Jan. 17,  the first project will create a solar power facility in North Kingstown, which should offset 70 percent of the campus’s electricity use by supplying 40 megawatts of clean energy to the electrical grid. An 8 MW wind power facility in Texas should offset the remaining 30 percent.

The University has partnered with Energy Development Partners, a Providence-based company, to design and locate a site for the solar facility as well as handle all permitting for the site and the facility’s connection to the electrical grid, said Frank Epps, chief executive officer of EDP. The facility will be built on a 240-acre former sand and gravel mining site in North Kingstown, making it the highest-capacity contiguous solar power facility in R.I.,  according to the University’s announcement.

Construction will begin on the site once EDP has finalized the development’s interconnection service agreement with National Grid — which would connect the solar panels to the electrical grid, Epps said. Constellation, a national energy provider and subsidiary of Exelon, will be responsible for the physical construction and operation of the project, he added. The University has negotiated a 25-year power purchase agreement with Constellation, according to the announcement. 

Once the solar facility is operational and integrated into the electrical grid, the University will receive credits from National Grid — the University’s energy provider — thanks to R.I. legislation that promotes renewable energy investment, wrote Leah VanWey, associate provost for academic space and professor of environment and society and sociology, in an email to The Herald. These credits should offset the payments made by the University to Constellation as part of the contract between the two entities.

The creation of the solar facility should lower the emissions per unit of electricity produced by the electrical grid, wrote Stephen Porder, University assistant provost for sustainability and chair of the projects’ selection committee, in an email to the Herald. “Adding clean energy reduces the amount of dirtier energy you need to feed into the grid,” he added.

Past solar projects in North Kingstown have faced objections from residents because one of them involved the clearing of trees to make way for solar panels. But the University and EDP have taken care to ensure that their solar development will not involve clear-cutting trees, Porder wrote.

EDP also contacted those whose property abuts the development’s land and held a meeting September 2018 for their questions and feedback. Epps, the project’s civil engineer and EDP staff all attended the meeting, and the group presented the project and the physical plans to all present at the meeting, Epps said. While the abutters had many questions during the meeting, none attended the presentation of the development’s final plans to the town’s Planning Commission. “There (don’t) seem to be any objections,” Epps added.

The initiative’s selection committee was composed of university faculty, facilities staff and representatives from the provost’s office and the office of the vice president for finance, Porder wrote. The committee partnered with consulting firm Customer First Renewables to assess the “environmental impact, economics (and) risks … (of) hundreds of project configurations from over 30 developers” before settling on the Texas and North Kingstown developments, Porder added.

Administrators and the press release did not provide details about the planned Texas wind project, but  the University expects both projects will be operational by the end of 2020, VanWey said.

“Climate change represents an existential threat to human well-being. … Buying from renewables is critical if Brown is going to lead in the fight,” Porder wrote.


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