As we drive from errands in the capital city of Providence back out to the country, we maneuver through the always-under-construction Rhode Island (RI) highways. We wind around Jersey barriers and curl through long-existing neighborhoods at the edges of the city. Then the road begins to widen and climb toward the northwest hills, with cul-de-sacs of suburbs and stretches of corporate shopping catching our eyes. Providence is the magnet — the place where the avant garde and the business world coalesce, and our commute to and from downcity necessarily works through Johnston. It’s the kind of small city where concerns of trash, sewer, and water get center stage on the city website. But the highway drive through Johnston has become anything but routine these days, for, as we crest a highway hill, we now see a line of wind turbines that appears on the horizon, rising high to the skyline. The 7 total wind turbines have become part of the norm of our RI renewable energy landscape, and many of us who live and work in the state are mighty glad.
Green Development of North Kingstown, RI recently installed the 7 German wind turbines from manufacturer VENSYS. Each of the turbines is 524 feet tall at its highest blade tip extension. Assembled in pieces, each turbine was built starting with 5 tubular tower sections that fit atop one another. Next came the nacelle 338 feet up that houses mechanicals. The generator on the front followed, and the rotor with its 3 blades was the final installation step.
Ironically, local weather conditions hindered the original construction deadlines. “We’ve been fighting a lot of wind,” Mark DePasquale, founder and chairman of Green Development, noted, smiling.
The onshore wind farm, which is situated in a primarily industrial area not too far from the ever-fragrant Central Landfill, is projected to be fully operational by late December, 2018 and will generate electricity for the regional grid. The $105-million project is the largest capacity wind farm on land in RI, with 3 megawatts per turbine, or 21 megawatts in total. The 200-foot-long carbon-fiber blades are longer than those of other RI onshore turbines, which allows them to capture more energy from the wind and convert it to more electricity.
Another RI wind farm, located in Coventry, has 10 turbines, but each generates only 1/2 the power of those in Johnston. The only offshore wind farm currently in the US is also in RI, off Block Island. Deepwater Wind’s 5-turbine, 30-megawatt project was completed in 2016 and is a sight to witness on the ferry to and from Point Judith on balmy summer jaunts.
Green Development is leasing land from private property owners in Johnston, including JR Vinagro Corp and Rambone Disposal Services, paying them $54,000 annually for each turbine. Johnston will receive $140,000 annually as part of a tax deal, and Green Development also agreed to make a one-time payment of $175,000 to set up a local college scholarship fund.
Mayor Joe Polisena, a Democrat who was elected in 2006 after 2 terms in the RI state senate, spoke positively of the Johnston wind farm to the Providence Journal. “It’s great for the town, great for the environment and, importantly, great for future generations.” (We here at CleanTechnica made several attempts to interview the mayor but were unable to make personal contact.)
The wind turbines reduce energy costs for municipalities and other public entities, and several have agreed to purchase the Johnston wind power to offset their electric bills: the Narragansett Bay Commission, the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority, the Town of Scituate, and multiple housing authorities. Additionally, some of the wind farm’s output will also be sold directly to the power grid.
Green Development is one of the largest developers of RI renewable energy. The company started with a single wind turbine in North Kingstown in 2012 and has installed or proposed more than 100 megawatts of solar power in Richmond, Exeter, North Smithfield, and elsewhere around RI. The company is currently surveying new locations for additional wind turbines. In the meantime, its North Kingstown core location is to evolve and feature a renewable-energy education center, a solar array, and a battery-storage facility.
RI Renewable Energy Growth Program
The installations of the Johnston wind turbines are part of a larger picture of RI renewable energy. The RI Renewable Energy Growth Program (REG Program) was developed under the Clean Energy Jobs Program Act. Available to eligible renewable distributed generation projects, the REG Program enables customers to sell their generation output under long-term tariffs at fixed prices for solar (greater than 25 kilowatts), wind, hydroelectric, and anaerobic digester projects.
The REG Program was created to support the development of 560 MW of new renewable energy projects in the state between 2015 and 2020. It has now been extended through 2029, with an annual target of 40 MW of new capacity each year. If you’d like to know more about the Program for your RI business or residence, check out this fact sheet.
For the first time since 2015, according to the RI Clean Energy Industry Report, the renewable energy sector declined by a factor of 4%, reflective of an industry-wide slowdown in the solar industry. These declines were seen across the nation and are a result of both the statewide REG Small Scale program hitting the 6.55-megawatt (MW) cap earlier than expected and a new federal tariff on imported solar equipment.
In May, 2018, Governor Raimondo announced the selection of Deepwater Wind to construct a new, 400-megawatt offshore wind farm. The Revolution Wind project—more than ten times the size of the current Block Island Wind Farm— was selected through a competitive offshore wind procurement process in collaboration with Massachusetts. This project is expected to create more than 800 direct construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. However, it holds even greater potential for establishing RI and southern New England as a hub for the nascent US offshore wind industry.
Captona Partners, too, is in the RI renewable energy news, having acquired a 6 MW brownfield solar farm in Warwick. “This project supports our mission of impact investing in a socially responsible way by not only converting a brownfield to productive renewable energy generation but also by providing economic benefits to the local community,” said Izzet Bensusan, CEO and co-founder of Captona Partners. “Our global portfolio continues its growth of wind and solar projects and is on track to reach 500 MW by 2020 along with our baseline capital growth.” Captona’s team owns and operates the asset and started providing net metering credits to Warwick in October, 2018.
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