JOHNSTON – The Rhode Island skyline will soon get seven towering additions with a new $84-million wind farm that just started construction near the Central Landfill.
Green Development, of North Kingstown, has begun site preparations on private land that it’s leasing for the installation of seven German-made wind turbines that will have a total capacity of 21 megawatts. By the end of the year, all of the 3-megawatt VENSYS direct-drive turbines are expected to start spinning. Each will stand 519 feet tall.
Two of the turbines will sell their output directly to National Grid while a third will offset the majority of electric usage of the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority. Green Development hasn’t yet finalized agreements for the power from the remaining turbines, but company CEO Al Bucknam said that talks are proceeding.
“We’re confident that we’ll have the power from all of those turbines signed up,” he said.
As for the agreement with the convention center authority, he said it will not only save the quasi-public agency money, it also supports the development of renewable energy in Rhode Island.
“That is less power that has to come from fossil fuel plants to meet the demand of Rhode Island,” Bucknam said.
Under the 25-year agreement, the authority will purchase 8.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, saving the agency $350,000 in the first year, according to the two parties. If electric rates go up over the course of the pact, the annual savings could be greater, rising to more than $10 million in total, they said.
The contract is made possible by a state law that allows for “virtual” net metering in which a municipality, education institution or public entity can purchase power from a renewable energy system installed away from their location and use it to offset their electric bill.
Jim McCarvill, executive director of the convention center authority, said the agency consulted with the Narragansett Bay Commission before entering into the deal with Green Development. The NBC has worked with Green Development to meet its own renewable-energy goals.
McCarvill said the agreement will be a selling point for the authority.
“It’s important to some of the meeting planners and people who are making site selections for trade shows,” he said. “They want to know that you’re doing a good job with your recycling. They want to know you’re doing a good job with green energy solutions.”
The amount of power that is expected to come from the wind turbine is the equivalent of about 80 percent of the authority’s electric usage. McCarvill hopes that with new heating and air conditioning equipment and controls in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and the convention center, the output from the turbine will soon offset all of the power used by the authority.
And if demand dips below what the turbine can supply, a clause in the agreement with Green Development allows for renegotiation, said McCarvill.
Green Development, formerly known as Wind Energy Development, installed its first wind turbine in North Kingstown in 2012, followed up with 10 more in Coventry in 2016, then that same year replaced the broken turbine at Portsmouth High School.
The company has also installed solar farms in Richmond and has large solar proposals in Exeter, Coventry and other towns.
The Johnston turbines are set to be shipped to Rhode Island in late summer. They will have double the generating capacity of Green Development’s Coventry, North Kingstown and Portsmouth turbines, as well as the NBC’s trio of turbines on the Providence waterfront.
The new turbines will not only be the largest on land in Rhode Island in terms of capacity; they will also be the largest in physical stature. At 519 feet high when their blades will be at their highest points, they will eclipse the state’s 1.5-megawatt turbines, which stand between 364 and 414 feet high.
However, they will not be the largest wind turbines overall in Rhode Island. The five offshore turbines installed by Deepwater Wind in state waters near Block Island in 2016 are each rated at 6 megawatts and rise 589 feet above the ocean’s surface. They make up the first offshore wind farm in the nation.
Just like in Coventry, the Johnston turbines will be situated near each other but will be installed on separate privately-owned lots.
Last year, Green Development won 20-year contracts with National Grid to sell power from two of the Johnston turbines through the state’s Renewable Energy Growth Program, an initiative created by the General Assembly that sets prices for qualifying solar arrays, small hydropower systems and wind turbines.
The turbines, at 0 Shun Pike and 2141 Plainfield Pike, will sell their power for 18.24 cents per kilowatt hour.
The other turbines will be located at and around 116 Shun Pike, 2111 Plainfield Pike and 26 Green Hill Rd. The area lies west of Route 295 and south of the Central Landfill.
The Johnston Zoning Board of Review granted special use permits for the turbines at several meetings last year. Leases for the land will last 25 years with the possibility of three five-year extensions, according to zoning records.
Green Development will pay Johnston $20,000 a year as part of a tax deal reached with Mayor Joseph Polisena, according to the records.
The virtual net metering agreement with the Convention Center Authority could take effect as early as next month. Until the Johnston turbines are complete, the authority will be supplied with any excess power from the Portsmouth turbine.
It will probably be a small amount.
“But it will be something,” said McCarvill.
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