New York-based Allco Renewable Energy wants to build the largest solar energy farm east of the Mississippi river. Their chosen location is in Coventry, Rhode Island, on land that gained infamy in the 1970s as an illegal hazardous waste dump and which became a Superfund site in the 1980s.
At first the solar energy farm would have 8 megawatts of production capacity, but Allco is also considering installing wind turbines if the site is suitable. But there is already some controversy: Allco wants some guarantees that it will be able to sell its power to the local utility for a certain time and at a certain rate, something that is not yet certain.
National Grid [the biggest local utility] said the legislation would be too costly to ratepayers, and is opposing the bill.
"We agree with the spirit of the bill," said Francis X. McMahon, president of Advocacy Solutions, who came to represent National Grid at the hearing. "But the costs would be extravagant to ratepayers." [...]
Allco is supporting the Sullivan bill, which sets the rate at which electricity from solar energy would sell for: 48 cents per kilowatt hour. That is about five times the rate that National Grid now pays for electricity under its current standard offer contracts. The additional cost would be passed on to all ratepayers.
We admit there are probably lower hanging fruits, places where building a solar energy farm would make more economic sense (places where there's more sun, where electricity supply is tighter and rates are higher, etc). Maybe it would make more sense to come back to Rhode Island once solar technology has improved some more and has gotten less expensive. Maybe wind turbines would make more sense?
But maybe not. We don't have all the details. Maybe the project would displace very dirty energy production that might become more expensive in a few years because a price will be put on carbon (carbon tax).
There is no clear cut answer here, but we applaud efforts by Allco to get things done and clean up the US grid a little bit. Lets just be careful not to turn the general public against clean energy by giving them the impression that it is too expensive (that's why Google's clean energy project, with a stated goal of making renewable energy cheaper than coal, is so important).
See also: ::Ausra: Solar Power Around the Clock, Enough for 90% of U.S. Grid, ::Torresol to Build 3 Solar Thermal Power Plants in Spain for $1.24 Billion, ::Solaria: Finding Clever Ways to Make Cheaper Solar Panels