Groundbreaking takes place for East Providence’s Forbes Street Landfill Solar Project

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EAST PROVIDENCE — It’s officially official, the soon-to-be completed solar electric field at the former Forbes Street landfill in the Riverside section of the city was formally christened by a host of public and private officials on what was a sunny, but windswept Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 14, at the site.

City Manager Peter Graczykowski, representing East Providence, Bill Martin, on behalf of CME Energy, and Nick Bullinger, of Hecate Energy, spoke to an audience of approximately about the project, which is past the mid-point of its development.

“For three decades, since the City had ended its use of the landfill, this property had been dormant and unproductive,” Mr. Graczykowski said in his opening remarks. “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.”

In addition, Mr. Graczykowski acknowledged past and present local and state lawmakers for their support of the project, including those in attendance Wednesday — Councilmen Tracy Capobianco, Tommy Rose and Chrissy Rossi as well as State Senator David Bates. City Planning Director Jeanne Boyle was also present Wednesday, toting a silver plated shovel during the ceremonial groundbreaking.

CME, based in Boston, and Hecate, based in Nashville, Tenn., are the developers of the project, which plans to install over 10,000 solar panels at the site. D E Shaw & Co., from New York City, are the owners of the farm.

“We are absolutely committed to this project,” said Mr. Martin, who touched on the financial problems East Providence faced throughout development and the often difficult process of getting solar projects like this one off the ground.

“We always felt the city was with us. Even in difficult times, we felt their interest in the project was sincere,” Mr. Martin added. “This is a great testimony that public/private enterprise can actually work. And we’re not done. Hopefully we’ll eventually expand.”

Sol Bright Renewable Energy, Whitman Environmental Engineering and Chrerenzia & Associates are responsible for the engineering, procurement and construction of the 3.7 megawatt project, which will spread 13,000 panels on some 30 acres of the 220-acre former landfill.

“People asked why are you having a groundbreaking? And I told them you do it so you remember what you couldn’t see,” Mr. Bullinger said. “I look forward to coming back here in a few months and seeing 13,000 solar panels and grass when it’s all done.”

The project took shape nearly three years ago in October of 2010 when the East Providence Planning Department selected the proposal presented by CME over six others.

In August of last year, the East Providence Budget Commission approved the contract with CME to lease the site. The city gained assurances against any damage to the property and against any liability claims as well as guarantees in the amount of rental and tax payments it will receive during negotiations.

Off the top, East Providence will receive $40,000 from CME on the use of 18 acres of land under the lease agreement. There is an option for CME to lease an additional parcel of land at the same rate, which could generate $15,000 more income to the city. And in lieu of taxes, CME has agreed to pay the city $30,600 up front to use the property.

In addition, if the project generates over 95 percent of its potential output, then the city would receive more money at a rate of $20 per megawatt hour up to a total of $31,000. CME has a contract to sell the electricity produced to National Grid.

The city is expected to instantly add some $71,000 to its coffers. At its best, the deal could net East Providence an additional $250,000 per year if the solar field generates maximum power. If CME opts to lease the two other parcels available to it, which would expand the capacity to 8 megawatts, then the city would receive in the neighborhood of $120,000 per year at the least.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Sources and the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation each either assisted or signed off on the project. Past and current state and local legislators from the city also supported the effort.

“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,” Mr. Graczykowski concluded.

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