Unique solar agreement to provide power to 9 R.I. public housing authorities

NAUTILUS SOLAR ENERGY, the Public Housing Association of Rhode Island and Veolia North America on Tuesday announced their joint agreement to build a set of solar arrays that will supply power to nine public housing authorities across the state. Above, a solar array in Tilton, Ill. / AP FILE PHOTO/ANTHONY ZILIS VIA THE NEWS-GAZETTE

PROVIDENCE – Nine Rhode Island public housing authorities are teaming up to get their electricity through off-site solar panels, in an agreement that project partners say is among the first of its kind nationwide.

Partners Nautilus Solar Energy, the Public Housing Association of Rhode Island and Veolia North America on Tuesday announced their joint agreement to build a set of solar arrays that will supply power to the nine public housing authorities across the state.

The agreement is one of the first of its kind nationwide to serve multiple public housing authorities under a single renewable energy contract, the organizations stated. 

Nautilus, which has developed a number of other solar arrays across the region, including one in North Smithfield, plans to build 55 acres of solar panel fields in Exeter and Smithfield that will produce 20,000 megawatt-hours of energy once completed. Under National Grid’s net metering program, the energy produced will benefit public housing authorities in Providence, North Providence, Newport, Cranston, Smithfield, Warwick, Warren, Bristol and Lincoln. The net metering program offers electricity bill credits to consumers who own or lease community solar projects, regardless of whether the solar projects are located on their properties.

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The agreements provide “guaranteed savings” to “hundreds” of public housing residents by offering a stable supply of energy that avoids seasonal rate hikes while also helping public housing authorities lower their operating budgets, the organizations said. The project is estimated to generate $30 million in savings over its 20-year life and provide power to 2,000 to 3,000 public housing authority residents, according to Alexey Cherniack, principal analyst for Veolia North America/SourceOne.

“Every housing authority in Rhode Island is working to provide the highest quality affordable housing possible with limited budgets,” Robert Coupe, PHARI co-president and executive director of the Cranston Housing Authority, said in a statement. “Our partnership with Veolia North America/SourceOne and Nautilus will dramatically reduce utility costs for many years to come, freeing valuable resources to invest in property maintenance, facility improvements and operational support. By supporting the growth of renewable energy projects, we will improve the quality of life for future generations while enhancing our ability to serve current residents.”

While Nautilus has helped to develop other solar projects that provide power to public housing authorities, this one is unique in the size and number of public housing authorities that teamed up, said Jason Su, a structure associate for Nautilus based out of Salt Lake City.

We kind of believe this is solar in its best form, not only in having a positive environmental benefit but also a positive social benefit,” Su said.

Boston-based Veolia North America, which serves as PHARI’s energy consultant, led the process through which Nautilus was selected in response to a request for proposals, and is expected to continue to offer expertise on the project.

Construction on the solar arrays, which have received all needed permits, is expected to begin in the first half of 2022.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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