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'Groundbreaking' Touts Solar-Energy Field at Former Landfill

August 14, 2013

Developers of the solar-energy project at the former Riverside landfill in East Providence host afternoon event to officially break ground.

The wind blew and the dust billowed at an official groundbreaking for the solar-energy project in East Providence on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 14.

But that didn’t take the smiles off the faces of the developers of the solar field – the first of its kind in Rhode Island -- at the former Riverside landfill off of Forbes Street.

Several dozen corporate, state and local officials stood or sat on folding chairs with them on freshly capped and graded land that will soon hold almost 13,000 solar panels spread over about 22 of the 220-acre site. And that's just the start.

Bill Martin, CEO of CME Energy, said: “We are totally committed to this project” even with difficulties that have caused delays in the construction schedule. This project, he said, "will turn a fallow piece of land into a producer of energy” for National Grid, while providing $75,000 a year for the city through the lease of the land.

City Manager Peter Graczykowski actually took to the podium first to introduce the project, which he said is a result of the city deciding that the "best use for this land was as a solar field."

Nick Bullinger, CEO of Hecate Energy in Nashville, Tenn., a partner with CME, also took his turn speaking into a wind that drowned out many of the three speakers’ remarks.

CME, Hecate Energy, and an investor partner, D.E.Shaw & Company of New York City, are building a 3.7 megawatt project that will produce enough electricity each year to power almost 500 homes. That ultimately could be expanded to 9 megawatts.

The project took birth in October, 2010, when the East Providence Planning Department selected CME’s proposal from among seven applicants.

“It’s one of only a handful of projects selected by National Grid to generate power for the utility,” said Jeanne Boyle, planning director. “It’s the first in Rhode Island moving toward construction.”

Among the local officials attending the groundbreaking were City Councilors Thomas Rose Jr., Tracey Capobianco and Chrissy Rossi; State Sen. David Bates, whose district includes the Riverside site; Richard Licht, director of the state Department of Administration, and Dr. Marion Gold, commissioner of the RI Office of Energy Resources.

Gold said the project is the largest and one of the first projects of its kind in Rhode Island under construction.

Graczykowski provided the complete text of his comments by email after the groundbreaking ended. It offers some insight into the history of the project.

"For three decades, since the city had ended its use of the landfill, this property had been dormant and unproductive.  Three years ago, the city identified in its Comprehensive Plan renewable energy as the best use for this site. Then, after a competitive procurement process and based on relevant experience, the City Council selected the team of CME Energy and Hecate to work with the City to tap the potential of this liability and turn it into a productive asset.

"The city has enjoyed tremendous support from a number of state and federal agencies in carrying this project forward to construction. The RIDOT stepped forward and contributed 50,000 cubic yards of clean fill material from the I-195 relocation project saving the City approximately $1 million in landfill closure costs. The RIDEM has worked closely and cooperatively with the city at every step of the way in the landfill closure process. The RIEDC and the Office of Energy Resources also provided critical financial assistance in the early stages of the project for pre-development costs.

"The Office of Energy Resources and the state legislature were instrumental in creating the renewable energy legislation that has made it financially feasible for this project to proceed. The city was also extremely fortunate to receive early financial assistance from the RI Foundation.

"I was deeply involved in the negotiations of the solar lease with our development partner. CME/Hecate’s willingness to work with us in a flexible and transparent manner ensured that both parties were able to negotiate a lease that will provide revenues of over $5 million over 25 years for the City from what was once a non-performing asset.

"I would also like to acknowledge the dedication of the City Engineering and Public Works employees working with the development partner by providing in kind services while closing the landfill.  Finally, I would like to acknowledge the consistent support this project has received from our City Council at every step of the way. In particular, I would like to thank Assistant Mayor Rose, Councilwoman Rossi and Councilwoman Capobianco who are in attendance at the ground breaking ceremony today.

Especially on a sunny day like today, it is remarkable to see the ongoing transformation of this previously blighted property into one of the largest solar energy facilities in the State of Rhode Island.  We are looking forward to the beginning of operations later this year.  Thank you for taking time to witness this milestone in economic development efforts in East Providence."

East Providence Patch
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