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Monday, May 20, 2013

What's next...cable made from hemp?

By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

WEST WARWICK — Even big companies can be a shade of green. Cox Communications unveiled two new solar arrays May 13.

The 681-kilowatt arrays at its offices here and in Portsmouth will generate enough electricity to power 77 homes, which is substantial for a solar-energy project in the Biggest Little.

The project is one of several the communications conglomerate has adopted as part of its green initiatives. The solar arrays join the company's composting program and other waste-cutting efforts. It also has long-term conservation and sustainability goals.

“There’s a lot more to the bottom line than money making. There’s the future,” said Alex Taylor, senior vice president of field operations for Cox.

The Cox Conserves initiative has some ambitious goals. The company aims to achieve a zero-landfill benchmark for its waste within seven years and be water-neutral within 20. Water neutral is achieved by managing rainwater, well water and even wastewater to offset the use of municipal water.

Cox is composts its cafeteria food scraps, utensils and plates at Earth Care Farm in Charlestown. The finished fertilizer is used on the grounds at the office park. Cooking oil is converted to fuel by Newport Biodiesel. The company's local fleet of vans has been upgraded to smaller, high-mileage vehicles.

“It’s a big investment, but Cox is dedicated to the initiative,” said Ted Merriman, operations manager for Cox.

The Portsmouth solar field contains 1,600 ground-mounted panels covering 2 acres. More than 600 solar panels sit atop two office buildings at its West Warwick location.

The solar project was managed by GridPoint of Arlington, Va., Inman Solar of Atlanta and PE Solar of Tempe, Ariz.

The electricity is being sold through Rhode Island’s distributed generation contracts, or DG program. The two projects were awarded 15-year contracts from National Grid to buy the electricity for 31.6 cents a kilowatt-hour. The electricity will not be used to power Cox facilities but will feed into the power grid.

Tim Horan, president of National Grid in Rhode Island, said he liked the state's pilot program, which has helped launch 23 solar projects and erect one wind turbine since 2011. The DG program is considered a test program and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2014. Several bills are being considered this year in the General Assembly to continue and expand the program.

“We see the program really moving forward,” Horan said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said expanding renewable energy is essential for Rhode Island. “When people talk about carbon pollution and climate change it gets very real in this state in a hurry," he said, referring to sea-level rise and more intense and frequent storms.