Former landfill site now producing clean energy for municipal, school buildings

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Under clear, blue, sunny skies with a backdrop of giant wind turbines, Johnston’s newest solar array opened with fanfare last week.

“As you can see, this is a Mecca for renewable energy. We’ve got the wind turbines in the background, the solar panels, and there are several other projects,” said Mayor Joseph Polisena during the ceremony held to open the facility. “This is great for the town, and I’m glad to say that Johnston is probably one of the leaders that has what I call the Mecca of renewable energy, and you can see it right here.”

The A Street facility is now a 3.9-megawatt solar array, located on a 32-acre former private landfill site that was capped and closed more than 25 years ago. The Southern Sky Renewable Energy RI location now hosts more than 9,400 solar panels split into two systems to generate power for both Johnston and Providence.

“The town of Johnston is putting vacant, unusable land back to work to benefit our taxpayers with electricity savings, enhance tax payments and scholarships for our senior high school students,” said Polisena. “The former landfill is producing clean energy for our town buildings while also generating tax revenue.”

The A Street project is the result of a competitive bid process that began in the summer of 2017. The 2.2 megawatts from over 5,500 panels will now power the town of Johnston’s municipal and school buildings. The remainder of the power generated, combined with another 29-megawatt facility under construction in Cranston, will offset approximately 60 percent of the city of Providence’s electricity needs.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said that converting the former landfill site to a solar farm was like “turning lemons into lemonade,” by reducing pollution, creating taxes and producing energy, adding that the facility is a “win-win-win all around.”

“This project is an important part of our strategy to become a carbon neutral city by 2050. With this project and the Cranston site, over half of our municipal buildings, including schools, will be powered by clean, local solar electricity,” said Elorza. “We are proud to be a part of this work, saving taxpayer dollars, diversifying our energy supply, and supporting local labor.”

Elorza also cited a recent federal environmental report that issued warnings about climate change and its affect on health and the economy.

“Our president may not believe in his own government, may not believe in climate change, but cities and towns are leading the way and we can’t afford to sit around and waste time arguing and negotiating with those who don’t believe in science,” said Elorza.

According to Southern Sky, the energy produced by the Johnston array yields environmental benefits equal to taking 770 vehicles off the road annually and powering 538 households.

“This is a unique project, the site of a former landfill transformed to a clean energy generator to serve two municipalities. Johnston and Providence has made it clear that they are committed to clean energy, reducing their impact on the environment and saving taxpayer dollars,” said Southern Sky company President Ralph Palumbo. “A Street is an example of what can happen when the private and public sector are committed to renewable energy and progress.”

Landfill projects such as this one take months of planning, approvals and expertise. Southern Sky has installed over 200,000 solar panels across New England to date. In Rhode Island, Southern Sky has installed over 100,000 panels.

The Department of Environmental Management, the Office of Energy Resources and Commerce RI were also involved in the solar project. Southern Sky also partnered with Conti Solar, Captona Partners, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 99, DiPrete Engineering, Green Energy Consumers Alliance, Competitive Energy Solutions and Seminole Financial Services.

“As a Rhode Island family business, we care about the future of our state. I care about the condition of the environment that I will leave for my children and future generations,” said Palumbo. “We are proud to work with cities and towns across Rhode Island and with other organizations to reduce their energy costs and their burden on the environment.”

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