Westerly considering solar partnership to reduce energy costs

Westerly considering solar partnership to reduce energy costs


Westerly Town Hall.

WESTERLY — The Town Council has authorized contract negotiations that could result in the town lending its support to a private renewable energy company’s plans for a solar array in either Westerly or Cranston. Under the proposed deal, the town would agree to buy a percentage of its annual power needs from the company in return for a guaranteed rate.

On Monday, the council asked Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy and Town Attorney Matthew Oliverio to begin talks with Southern Sky Renewable Energy Rhode Island LLC, a Warwick-based renewable energy company. The company was selected in April from a group of five candidates as the town’s preferred developer following a bid process.

The location of the proposed solar array was not entirely clear Wednesday. Material provided to the council by Southern Sky redacts the exact address of the local property, but a map included in the material clearly depicts 58 Boombridge Road, a 108-acre parcel owned by George H. Champlin Jr., as the site where the array would be constructed. A phone message seeking comment for this article left at a number corresponding to the address was not immediately returned. A second site, in Cranston, is also under consideration.

The company is proposing a net metering arrangement for the Westerly site and a virtual metering arrangement for the Cranston site. Net metering involves a system in which solar panels or other renewable energy generators are connected to a public-utility power grid and surplus power is transferred onto the grid, allowing customers to offset the cost of power drawn from the utility. Virtual net metering is the term used to describe a similar system in which power is generated at a remote location.

The town would pledge to purchase a certain amount of its annual electricity from Southern Sky in return for a rate guaranteed to never exceed the amount the town pays at the date of signing the contract. Kennedy said the town currently spends about $1 million per year on electricity.

Kennedy told the council that details on cost and benefits of the project are considered to be proprietary and would not be released publicly until talks aimed at a contract develop. In the early stages of the talks some of the details will be shared with the Town Council in private, executive sessions, Kennedy said. According to Mark Miller, the town’s energy consultant, the town must either own, lease, or have an easement on property where the array is to be built. Miller’s firm, Colliers International, was retained by the town in April.

According to the company’s bid documents, it is proposing to build, own and operate a solar photovoltaic system capable of meeting the town’s electric load of 8,793,40 kilowatts per year.

A sister company of Southern Sky Renewable Energy Rhode Island LLC has developed municipal partner solar systems in Massachusetts in the towns of Carver, Canton, and Berkley and is working on proposed projects with several Rhode Island towns.


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