From trash to ‘green’ treasure: Solar farm opens

From trash to ‘green’ treasure: Solar farm opens

With new solar panels as a backdrop, state and local officials watch as Mayor Charles Lombardi cuts the ribbon on a new solar array on the old town landfill last Wednesday. To Lombardi’s left is Ralph Palumbo, of solar company Southern Sky, and to his right are Gov. Gina Raimondo, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Town Council President Dino Autiello and others. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)
Town receiving some $200,000 in benefits

NORTH PROVIDENCE – For some 35 years, little more than a stray ATV or resident walking their dog was ever seen atop the old town landfill off Smithfield Road, which until now hasn’t produced tax dollars or energy supplies.

The town last Wednesday, Oct. 17, hosted state and local officials, as well as representatives from Southern Sky Renewable Energy RI, for the official opening of Southern Sky’s new 2.6-megawatt solar array, which will bring some $200,000 in revenues and electricity savings – $5.1 million over 20 years – to taxpayers.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, business leaders and other elected officials joined Southern Sky representatives to mark the completion of the array.

Ralph Palumbo, of Southern Sky, said there were plenty of “complex gymnastics” done to make the finances work and finally get this solar array online. He thanked everyone involved in the process of transforming the 12-acre closed landfill into an energy generator.

Lombardi reminded the audience that North Providence was the first community ready to go on a solar farm six years ago, but “politics” got in the way. He approached last Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony with “mixed emotions,” he said, knowing that the town missed several years of revenue.

The opening of the solar farm is good for the town and its taxpayers, he said, thanking the Town Council for its work on getting the proper approvals in place.

While similar projects in some towns are causing controversy due to the need to cut down forests, said Lombardi, there was no issue with that here, as this property was serving no useful purpose and couldn’t be redeveloped with buildings.

“The Smithfield Road solar array will yield significant economic and environmental benefits for North Providence,” said Lombardi. “This project has cleaned up and repaired our former landfill and will power our municipal buildings, saving taxpayers millions of dollars and adding additional tax revenue. Southern Sky has been a great partner from planning through construction.”

According to Palumbo, there are some 6,700 panels at the North Providence facility.

The former municipal landfill site is now producing clean energy for the town of North Providence, offsetting energy costs. In addition to energy savings, the town will receive rent payments for the use of the land and tax payments for real and tangible property, representing a financial benefit of $5.1 million over the life of the project.

“Renewable energy is the future of energy in Rhode Island, and this new solar array is a perfect example of our progress,” said Raimondo, who thanked Southern Sky for contributing to the state’s efforts at expanding its renewable energy industry on a site that’s perfect for it. “The incredible transformation of this former landfill into a clean energy-producing solar array is not only good for the planet, but for our economy as well. We’re making it easier for businesses and homeowners alike to invest in solar and are now offering financial incentives to convert brownfields into renewable energy projects. Projects such as these aren’t done without hiccups, said Raimondo. She said it’s wonderful that people no longer have to choose between being pro environment and pro business, as renewable energy is growing faster than any other industry in the state.

The energy produced by this array will yield environmental benefits, offsetting the emissions equal to burning 2.9 million pounds of coal annually, or taking 560 cars off the road. Ruggerio said the energy produced here is enough to power 282 homes, and he plans to promote more similar projects in the near future.

Council President Dino Autiello said it was the cooperative efforts of the council and mayor after this idea was first brought up in August of 2012 that eventually led to its successful conclusion.

“This project will be a great benefit to the taxpayers of North Providence,” he said.

The municipal landfill has been closed for the past 35 years. The facility will operate under an agreement between Southern Sky and the town for the next 25 years. The project also received a $350,000 grant through Commerce Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Fund.

“Southern Sky is proud to lead the cleanup, repair and redevelopment of another landfill site in Rhode Island,”said Palumbo. “North Providence is making a statement by offsetting all of their municipal buildings with renewable energy. Southern Sky will continue to support the green economy in Rhode Island and Gov. Raimondo’s visionary renewable energy goals.” 

Southern Sky’s partners in this project were instrumental in turning idle town property into a productive site for North Providence and its residents, said Palumbo.

“Landfill and brownfield sites require a more extensive approval and construction process to ensure that the protective cap is not disturbed,” he said. 

An aerial view of the new solar array in North Providence, which will generate $200,000 each year to North Providence.


will we be seeing a property tax reduction?