Solar offer to town is for 'enormous' energy savings

Solar offer to town is for 'enormous' energy savings

SMITHFIELD - A Texas-based company has leased 15 acres of farmland on Limerock Road for the harvesting of solar energy to be resold to National Grid, and the firm has asked the town to sign on for supplying municipal and school buildings at what it says will be "enormous" savings.

According to James M. Barrett, the owner and sole employee of FRIEnergy, which has opened an office on Cedar Swamp Road, the town could save about $102,000 in the first year, a figure that he said would gradually rise to an annual $500,000 by the last year of a 20-year agreement.

Barrett said the savings are possible because his project can produce electricity, using thousands of 4-by-6-foot solar panels covering the entire 15 acres, without incurring the fuel costs that drive up National Grid's prices by some 2.5 percent a year.

Barrett's site is on part of the 150-acre Blackbird Farm, known for its Black Angus beef cattle.

Farm owner Kevin Bouthillette said the lease is for land within a 40-acre parcel that will keep the project separate from any neighbors and is not visible from the street. His property is near the Lincoln border, west of the Lincoln Middle School.

In a presentation to the Town Council Oct. 1, Barrett, a mechanical engineer who said he has worked in the energy services field for 20 years, estimated the cost of his solar field at $10.4 million and said construction, to take 18 weeks, would create 30 construction jobs for that duration. He said continuing operations would create five jobs directly related to the facility and five more with indirect connections, and that the project would generate $15,000 a year in property taxes or other revenue.

According to Barrett the installation has no moving parts and generates no noise.

He said if the town wishes to buy some of the power it generates it could do so with no price increase over the 20 years, whereas it would pay 170 percent more over that time buying electricity from National Grid, which is subject to price increases for the fuel it uses, primarily natural gas.

He said his 3.99-megawatt facility, which could be ready in a year once permits are obtained, will annually generate 5.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity

The average household uses about 11,000 kilowatt hours a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Four evenings of television watching consumes about one kilowatt hour, according to industry sources.

Barrett, of Lone Star, Texas, said he is also eying projects in Glocester, on six acres owned by William Reichert on Old Snake Hill Road, and on a former landfill in North Providence.

He has hired former state Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. as a marketing consultant. Town and school officials are attempting to schedule an informational workshop on the proposal for Nov. 5, according to municipal Finance Director Randy R. Rossi.

Barrett said he is also working on a project in Dartmouth, Mass., and that another in Marshfield, Mass., has been completed and sold to a utility company.

He said his firm arranges for land leases and permits, and then partners with other companies who do the actual construction.

He said National Grid would credit him for the electricity he produces, and that he, in turn, would transfer those credits to the town for municipal and school buildings.

He said that because the solar projects require no fuel, they can generate electricity at 12 cents a kilowatt hour in comparison to what he said was National Grid's 13 to 15 cents that continually rises as fuel costs go up.

Barrett said he anticipates applying for a zoning variance that would allow construction of the facility.

Smithfield currently uses about $450,000 worth of electricity for municipal buildings and street lighting, and about $250,000 for schools, according to figures supplied by town officials.