City moving forward with Green Development solar project

City moving forward with Green Development solar project

WOONSOCKET – Residents may soon see solar panels cropping up on parcels around the city after the City Council voted to move forward with negotiations for its first commercial-scale solar energy projects this week.

On Monday, councilors voted unanimously to authorize the administration to begin negotiations with Green Development, a North Kingstown-based company and one of the state’s largest developers of solar energy. The vote followed a lengthy bid process during which the city’s Renewable Energy Subcommittee selected Green Development from among seven developers who submitted proposals for solar projects that would produce energy for the city.

According to Councilor Jon Brien, chairman of the Renewable Energy Subcommittee, the vote authorizes the administration to move forward with solar development on four parcels of municipal-owned property at locations around the city. These include 1.15 megawatts on Mason Street in Fairmount, 993 kilowatts on Manville Road and 6.2 megawatts in two arrays on land near the new water treatment plant under construction off Jillson Avenue. They also include 660 kilowatts proposed for a covered carport array that would be built over the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center parking lot on Aylsworth Avenue.

“They proposed six sites, four of which I think are very viable and ready to be worked on,” said Brien.

In addition to the four sites, Green Development also proposed solar installations at two locations that were not approved by the Renewable Energy Subcommittee. These included land owned by the city of Woonsocket around the Woonsocket Reservoirs in North Smithfield and an installation at Morin Heights on land owned by the Woonsocket Housing Authority, a separate entity from the city. Taken together, the six sites would have produced about 8.5 megawatts of electricity resulting in an approximately $20 million cost savings to the city over 25 years. With the four sites chosen by the subcommittee, Brien estimated production will be closer to six megawatts.

The subcommittee’s calculations are based on a complex network of incentives set up by the state to spur solar development. By state law, municipalities, schools and nonprofits are eligible to receive net metering credits as purchasers of solar energy regardless of the location of the project. By locating the projects on municipal-owned land within the city’s boundaries, the city is also eligible to receive tangible property tax of up to $5,000 per year per megawatt and lease payments from the development company.

Not everyone sees the Green Developent proposal as a win-win. Monday’s vote came in spite of the protests of Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who told the Renewable Energy Subcommittee last week she had no intention of moving forward with a contract until the city reissues a request for bids. Baldelli-Hunt has stated her concerns with the bid process several times, saying the open-ended request for solar development that did not specify a location lacked transparency and placed some bidders at a disadvantage.

“I think I was quite clear at the last several meetings,” she told members of the subcommittee. “The administration is definitely in favor of moving forward with green energy projects. What we’re not comfortable with, as I indicated at the last meeting or a couple meetings back, was the fact that when the (request for proposals) went out, it just went out as a blanket RFP.”

Baldelli-Hunt also urged councilors to hire a professional consultant before choosing to a company to engage in negotiations. Last year, the subcommittee sought the guidance of the Narragansett Bay Commission, a quasi-public entity that has renewable energy projects on their Providence property, though Baldelli-Hunt said she did not consider the agency a replacement for a professional consultant.

“None of us are in this field. This is a very, very long-term commitment and we have to get it right,” she said.

Separately from the Green Development proposal, the subcommittee has also discussed plans to commission a solar project on the soccer fields at the River’s Edge Recreation Complex, a proposal Brien said he hopes to send to the general council for a vote in July or August. Baldelli-Hunt indicated her administration is also developing their own list of parcels targeted for solar development and plans to present them to the council in the coming months.