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Let the Sun Shine: Solar Project Moving Quickly

By DAVE FISHER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The West Broadway Neighborhood Association’s collective solar energy project compared to, say, the Deepwater Wind farm off Block Island, is moving along at lightspeed. With the help of Real Goods Solar — formerly known as Alteris Renewables to Rhode Islanders — and funding from the state's Renewable Energy Fund, the WBNA hopes to have those panels up and running well before the dog days of summer.

Sixteen structures on the city's West Side have been identified within the neighborhood as prime spots for solar photovoltaic installations, including single and multi-family homes and offices of for-profit and not-for profit businesses. A number of the sites are within the Armory Historical District, and one of them is listed on the National Register of Historical Homes.

“It’s our contention that historical buildings are the greenest buildings," WBNA President Kari Lang said. "While refurbishing and retrofitting them for renewables and energy efficiency may cost a bit more than putting the same measures into a new construction, that cost is offset by the fact that no new materials need to be mined, logged or industrially produced to build the structure."

She added, "We hope that this is just the first round of several for the WBNA."

One of the biggest concerns for Lang and the WBNA is creating a replicable model that could be used for any neighborhood or local business association in Rhode island or across the country, though the WBNA isn’t the first community-based solar project in New England. According to Ben Swanson, solar power consultant with Real Goods Solar, “There have been a couple of examples of similar projects, but none in Rhode Island.”

The Solarize Mass project, facilitated by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, has four communities, including Somerville, that have served as pilot locations for similar solar projects. Real Goods Solar won the project bids in two of those four communities. “The really big difference has been the incentives available for homeowners in places like Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont,” Swanson said. The rescinding of the residential renewable energy tax credits in Rhode Island has brought residential renewable installations to a virtual standstill.

The WBNA project, when completed, will have 300 Buy America/American Recovery and Reinvestment Act compliant solar PV modules. “Part of the program is the idea of cost savings from standardization and bulk purchase," Swanson said. "American-made is one of the provisions of the federal stimulus money used for the program.”

In total, these 16 installations are expected to produce 87,776 kilowatt-hours of electricity for the participating members in the first year of operation, or enough energy to take roughly four of the buildings completely off fossil fuel-fired electricity, and that is real good news.

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