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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Better than chopping down forests

 Some 60 acres of forestland in western Cranston were clear-cut to make room for a 60,000-panel solar facility. (Douglas Doe)
Some 60 acres of forestland in western Cranston were clear-cut
to make room for a 60,000-panel solar facility. (Douglas Doe)
The Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources has adopted a set of initiatives to encourage solar development on brownfields, rooftops, and carports.

Rhode Island’s rush to site renewable energy on open space and clear-cut forest to make room has become a contentious issue, with Cranston, Exeter and Hopkinton among the places where resident pushback has been strong.

“Making renewable energy more affordable and accessible has been a top priority of this administration, and today’s announcement builds on the progress we have made,” Office of Energy Resources (OER) commissioner Carol Grant said. 

“There is so much underutilized space — from parking garages, to rooftops, to former industrial complexes. By retrofitting these spaces with new solar panels, we will continue to lower our carbon footprint and to meet the growing demand for [renewable] energy.”

The initiatives announced July 19 were developed during the past year with input from various stakeholders, including municipal planners, environmentalists, farmers, government agencies, businesses, developers, and concerned residents.

The new initiatives are as follows:

Brownfields. Former industrial or commercial sites where future use is affected by environmental contamination are often ideal locations for renewable-energy projects. Starting this fall, renewable-energy projects that are sited on brownfields will be eligible for financial incentives from the Renewable Energy Fund. A million dollars will be earmarked specifically for this initiative, according to OER.

Rooftops. The state agency, in coordination with the Distributed Generation Board, is proposing an increase in the number of megawatts of capacity available for rooftop solar under the 
2019 Renewable Energy Growth Program. Under this proposal, the cap would be raised 27 percent to nearly 9 megawatts, allowing more homeowners across the state to access the program starting in the spring 2019. This proposal is subject to review by the Distributed Generation Board and Public Utilities Commission in late 2018, according to OER.

Carports. OER has proposed that solar arrays installed over parking areas be made available for the first time under the Renewable Energy Growth Program. The proposal is also subject to the same review and approval process as the small-scale solar proposal.