Solar farm numbers surging in RI

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Solar farms are popping up just about everywhere in Rhode Island.

There are currently 155 large-scale solar projects in over 35 cities and towns, producing 73 megawatts of energy. To put that in perspective, 97.79 megawatts is enough to power about 10,000 homes.

Rhode Island-based Southern Sky Renewable Energy is one of 55 companies currently registered to do solar work in the state.

Solar projects have taken off, thanks to Governor Gina Raimondo’s goal of achieving 1,000 megawatts of clean energy projects by the end of 2020.

The projects are propelled by incentives under the state’s Renewable Energy Growth Program. Current sectors eligible to benefit from the program are businesses, institutions, non-profits and state facilities.  

However, for the panels to pop up, trees have to come down. The Office of Energy Resources says every megawatt of solar panels, can require three-to-five acres of property, depending on the site itself.

Douglas Doe lives down the street from a solar farm currently under construction by Southern Sky on Lippitt Avenue in Cranston. The project was approved after public meetings before the Cranston Planning Commission, the city’s Development Review Committee and two neighborhood meetings. Doe says the company cut down more than 240 trees.

“They came in with their wood chippers and their stump grinders,” Doe said. “You can imagine the noise. We had gravel trucks back and forth all day long. I counted 13 in one hour one afternoon.”

Southern Sky Vice President Lindsay McGovern admits, out of the 17 projects they’ve completed and with 17 more currently underway, the Lippitt Avenue project has been their biggest obstacle to date. But McGovern insists they go out of their way to be a good neighbor.

“We offered to establish a conservation easement, a vegetative buffer, we repaired the neighbor’s road, the access road to get to the site,” she explained.

McGovern said the company initially looks for land that is already cleared to house the projects, specifically brownfields and landfills.

Eyewitness News was there in mid-October when North Providence celebrated the completion of what Southern Sky refers to as “the trifecta.” The company built a solar farm on the city’s former municipal landfill, producing not only energy savings for the city, but also bringing in approximately $200,000 in rent payments and property tax revenue.

It’s a welcome change for neighbor Jim Grande, who says the 12-acre parcel, which sat dormant for decades, had become a favorite of ATV and dirt bike riders.

“It was incessant, on a daily basis,” he said. “Southern Sky contacted me directly. I explained what we were looking for, and they put a fence up.”

Solar farms are quickly becoming a part of Rhode Island’s landscape, but they won’t necessarily be here forever. McGovern says the panels themselves are only good for approximately 25 years.

According to Southern Sky, once the panels have reached their expiration date, the beneficiary can renew the contract. This means the company will tear down the old panels and install a new farm, or the beneficiary can opt to have the farm removed altogether and come up with a different use for the land.

Here’s a full list of solar farms across Rhode Island (List does not include Block Island or Pascoag)

Cities/TownsSolar Farm ProjectsMegawatts generated
Bristol60.3
Burrillville10.0
Charlestown10.0
Coventry10.1
Cranston96.4
Cumberland41.8
East Greenwich10.1
East Providence83.8
Exeter21.8
Foster12.0
Glocester60.9
Hopkinton30.7
Jamestown20.2
Johnston41.6
Little Compton10.2
Lincoln41.4
Middletown121.9
Narragansett10.0
Newport10.3
North Kingstown86.9
North Scituate21.4
North Smithfield63.2
Pawtucket10.2
Portsmouth10.5
Providence254.4
Richmond47.0
Scituate15.0
Smithfield30.3
South Kingstown71.4
Tiverton20.2
Warren10.1
Warwick50.4
West Greenwich12.0
West Warwick61.1
Westerly70.4
Woonsocket20.3
Out of State514.9
Total72.9155

Source: RI Office of Energy Resources

Editor’s Note: This story was updated from its original version to include specific information concerning meetings held about the Lippitt Avenue project.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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