Former Landfill to Receive Solar Makeover

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island can now measure its solar projects in acres, as the state’s largest solar installation broke ground Aug. 14. When finished, the Forbes Street Landfill project will cover 14 acres with some 13,000 solar panels. The project is expected to be completed in mid-November. It will have a capacity to generate 3 megawatts of power, or enough electricity for 496 homes.

The project almost didn’t get off the ground because of the city’s financial woes and delays caused by Hurricane Sandy. William Martin, president of Boston-based CME Energy, the co-developer for the $9 million project, said 88 percent of solar projects never get off the drawing board. The Forbes Street project, however, has many attributes, such as a large chunk of land that was too fallow for other uses. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) also donated 250,000 cubic yards of clean dirt to cap the old dump, saving the project about $1 million. The DOT delivered the fill from the I-195 highway redevelopment project.

The city’s Department of Public Works helped cut cost by performing work on the site with a bulldozer that the Police Department provided at no cost. Funds were also obtained from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund ($200,310) and the Office of Energy Resources ($100,000).
 
“We were absolutely committed to this project,” Martin said.

The connection agreement with National Grid also went smoothly, Martin said. Other projects, such as the three wind turbines erected at the Narragansett Bay Commission, were delayed by several months because of connection issues.
 
Nick Bullinger, chief operating officer of Nashville-based Hecate Energy, praised Rhode Island’s fixed-pricing program — also known as the distributed generation (DG) contracts program — for making the project attractive for financing.

“I think it’s an excellent state for development,” he said. The DG program, run by the Office of Energy Resources (OER), National Grid and the state Public Utilities Commission was awarded a 15-year power-purchase agreement to sell at a price of 23.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. The city is expected to earn some $5 million in revenues in 25 years through the lease of the land.

There’s also room for growth at the 227-acre Forbes Street Landfill, which served as a dump from 1970-1980. About a third of the property is now used to compost leaf and yard waste. Some 45 acres remain suitable for solar.

Solar landfills cost about a third more than traditional solar projects. Typically, the foundation can’t dig into the ground for fear of disturbing the landfill cap. Instead a special concrete ballast will sit atop the fill to secure the solar panels.
 
Drainage, venting, raised access roads and space for lawn mowers to move within the solar arrays are required to be part of the design. The arrays also will be surrounded by a fence. A prospective landfill must also be closed and the land allowed to settle for at least 15 years before construction begins.
 
While the East Providence solar project will be the state’s biggest, other sizable ones are also moving forward in West Greenwich, Jamestown, Middleton and the Quonset Industrial Park in North Kingstown.
 
The Forbes Street project is expected to create 40 jobs during construction.