RIPTA Embraces Green and White with Solar Roof

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is slowly turning green. On Nov. 8, the state’s public transit provider unveiled its latest green-branded project: a 2-acre rooftop solar array.

This renewable-energy makeover follows other environmentally friendlier efforts, such as hybrid buses, solar-powered stops, biodegradable cleaners and a new rapid bus line scheduled to begin in January.

RIPTA also is experimenting with solar-topped buses to eliminate idling, which buses do regularly to keep batteries charged.

The latest solar project replaced the original, and leaky, roof at RIPTA’s 25-year-old main office on Melrose Street. It includes new skylights and white roofing, which helps reduce the city's heat-island effect. New high-speed garage door openers were installed to better retain heat.

Funding for the $1.9 million project was seeded with $340,000 from federal stimulus money, a $1.2 million federal transit grant, RIPTA’s loan fund and $240,000 from a lawsuit settlement against Midwest coal-burning power plants owned by the American Electric Power Service Corp.

The lawsuit was filed in 1999 by then-Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. Eight states, including Rhode Island, claimed that American Electric power plants were modified and built without federal permits, sending pollution to the East Coast. In 2007, Rhode Island was awarded $2 million from a $30 million settlement shared among the eight states. Settlement money also helped fund a 10-kilowatt wind turbine built in 2010 at Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett and a 10-kilowatt turbine at East Matunuck State Beach in South Kingstown.

RIPTA expects to offset 25 percent of the building’s energy use and earn $55,000 annually from the sale of renewable energy to the power grid.

“It’s not just good for the environment, it’s good for economic development,” Mayor Angel Taveras said.

The 283-kilowatt project was designed by Brewster Thornton Group of Providence. The solar panels were made with parts from California and Massachusetts.