Rhode Island Leads By Example On Solar Power

 This solar array on the roof of the Office of Administration is one of three Rhode Island government buildings to join the Lead by Example initiative. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

This solar array on the roof of the Office of Administration is one of three Rhode Island government buildings to join the Lead by Example initiative. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Homegrown solar power is helping to diversify Rhode Island’s energy portfolio.

According to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association, Rhode Island's solar capacity spiked considerably in 2017 and is continuing the trend in 2018, as installed solar energy has jumped from 23.4 megawatts in 2017 to 39.1 megawatts at the end of March.

More than 900 new solar arrays atop a cluster of state agency buildings near the Statehouse are modest in size but are part of a flourish of solar-energy development in the state. The arrays symbolize the state’s commitment to renewable energy as part of its Lead by Example campaign.

The photovoltaic panels on the Department of Administration (584), Department of Health (126), and Department of Transportation (210) will save money and feed directly into the power grid. Over its 25-year life, this solar system will save $1.7 million, according to the project's developer.

“The elevators are running on solar panels,” said Stuart Flanagan, cofounder and principal of Newport Renewables, the Providence solar energy developer and installer that built the project.

The company started in 2010 and has 18 employees today. Growth is expected to continue, thanks to initiatives such as net metering and the state's fixed-price Renewable Energy Growth program.

Lead by Example is the result of a 2015 executive order by Gov. Gina Raimondo that directs state agencies, municipalities and schools to initiate renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects. Raimondo says the projects will save tax dollars, help the environment, and encourage the private sector and homeowners to follow this lead.

The three-building energy system cost $873,448 and was funded through proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ($608,508) and the state Renewable Energy Fund ($264,900), which is financed through electric ratepayers.

Other Lead by Example projects include solar arrays on the Office of Attorney General, Rhode Island College, and the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol. So far, all of the solar projects have been roof-mounted.

“It’s great to use locations like this rather than clear-cutting a forest,” Flanagan said.

The governor's initiative has no restrictions against installing solar projects in wooded areas, but so far none of the applications have sought to do so.

Energy-efficiency projects include the conversion of 80 percent of street lights to LED lighting on state-owned highways.

The initiative has also led to the installation of 44 electric-vehicle charging stations on state properties.

Currently, the state has some 10,000 jobs in the renewable-energy sector.

Raimondo expects more jobs as the state seeks to attain 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020 through a combination of incentives and funding.

“Renewable energy is the future and it allows us to meet the needs of climate change but also create a lot of jobs in the process,” Raimondo said.