Superfund pig farm to become $45M solar energy site

Maybe you can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.  Allco Renewable Energy Group signed a letter of intent to develop a $45 million solar energy farm on what was a pig farm that literally exploded in 1977 and became Rhode Island’s first Superfund site.

The 100-acre site would be filled with of hundreds of 3-feet by 5-feet solar panels that would each sit on a motorized based to keep them facing the sun. The farm could generate up to 8 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 7,200 homes, making it the largest solar energy project east of the Mississippi.

Under the agreement, Allco would sign a long term lease with the local town, Coventry, and pay Coventry 4% of gross revenue generated by the project or $200,000 annually, whichever is greater, the company said.  Allco plans to sell the electricity to a power distributor such as National Grid.

Allco said it would also build a meteorological measurement tower on the site to monitor the wind over time with the idea of possibly deploying wind turbines at the site.The Rhode Island General Assembly needs to agree to the concept and it hasn’t been all that agreeable in the past. 

 Allco in November proposed to build a 338 wind turbine farm off the coast of Rhode Island, but that project is on hold as state regulators argue over whether or not they will permit off-shore wind farms. 

Allco is developing wind projects in California, New Zealand and Australia.In January 2006, Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri established the RIWINDS program to promote development of wind energy in the state with a goal that 15%, about 150 megawatts, of the state's electric demand come from wind power, according to a Reuters report.  But Rhode Island does not yet have any regulations on the permitting of wind farms, Reuters said.

Solar energy projects have been on the front burner recently. This month 11 university solar research projects aimed at developing advanced solar photovoltaic (PV) technology manufacturing processes and products got a $14 million boost from the Dept. of Energy.  Photovoltaic-based solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity, and are made of semiconductor materials similar to those used in computer chips.  When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity.  

The solar projects have the potential to significantly reduce the cost of electricity produced by PV products from current levels of $0.18-$0.23 per Kilowatt hour (kWh) to $0.05 - $0.10 per kWh by 2015 – a price that is competitive in markets nationwide, the DOE said.    

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