Solar project to boost public housing

Posted 11/24/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE A new solar power net-metering agreement between a group of Rhode Island public housing authorities and a pair of energy companies is expected to save millions over the coming two decades, according to those involved in the pact.

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Solar project to boost public housing


A new solar power net-metering agreement between a group of Rhode Island public housing authorities and a pair of energy companies is expected to save millions over the coming two decades, according to those involved in the pact.

“We’re all looking for ways to operate as efficiently as possible … It’s going to benefit everybody,” said Rob Coupe, executive director of the Cranston Housing Authority and co-president of the Public Housing Association of Rhode Island, or PHARI.

He added: “The whole idea was by working together, we could purchase more credits and get a better price, and it really worked out well for us.”

The agreement between Nautilus Solar Energy, Veolia North America and nine housing authorities in the state, including Cranston, “will provide guaranteed energy savings to area Housing Authorities and bring electricity to thousands of low-income residents across the state from safe, clean, renewable solar projects,” according to a recent press release announcing the deal. It is estimated that it will the housing authorities save $30 million over the next 20 years.

The release also describes the arrangement as “one of the first in the nation to aggregate multiple public housing authorities under a single renewable energy contract.”

The arrangement involves power from three solar energy installations encompassing more than 55 acres, according to the release. The planned installations are located largely within the towns of Exeter and Smithfield. Once operational, they will generate more than 20 million kilowatt hours of electricity that is fed into the Narragansett Electric Company’s grid. The release indicates construction of the installations will begin during the first half of next year.

Based on the electricity production from the planned solar fields, the public housing authorities in Providence, North Providence, Newport, Cranston, Smithfield, Warwick, Warren, Bristol and Lincoln will enjoy “guaranteed savings against prevailing electricity supply rates” over the 20-year term of the agreement, the release states.

Coupe said the arrangement involves an agreement on the part of the housing authorities to purchase energy credits based on the last three years of annual electricity usage. The credit purchase was further refined to reflect 85 percent of the three-year average, he said, to help ensure that the authorities do not purchase credits that aren’t used.

Through the credit purchase agreement, Coupe said, Cranston and the other housing authorities will realize a 42 percent savings on electricity costs. That value will increase over time, he said, as the cost of electricity rises.

In Cranston’s case, Coupe said, the dollar value of the savings is estimated at more than $130,000 at the outset of the agreement. For context, the Cranston Housing Authority’s annual operating budget totals just less than $6 million, although that does not include its capital budget or Section 8 housing assistance payments.

“It’s tremendous,” he said of the savings.

The Cranston Housing Authority manages more than 560 apartments across six facilities, Coupe said, and the majority of tenants have utilities included in rent. At Jennings Manor, the smallest of the facilities, tenants receive a utility allowance deducted from their rent.

In conjunction with the electricity savings, Coupe said the authority plans to continue investing in energy efficiency upgrades. Some projects, including LED lighting, have already been completed.

Coupe also noted that the housing authority has obtained preliminary approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, to qualify for an incentive related to the net metering arrangement. HUD’s subsidies, he said, are based in part on utility expenses, so without the incentive, the lower costs realized through the agreement’s set electric rates could have affected that funding. Now, it is set to remain steady.

As co-president of PHARI – a role to which he was elected as the group began exploring net metering – Coupe had a hand in helping to shape the new agreement. That proved beneficial given his prior experience with such agreements. He helped research the issue for the city of Cranston while working as director of administration under former Mayor Allan Fung.

“I had a little bit of background with the program, with the virtual net metering program, and understood how it worked,” he said.

Coupe said the energy consultant SourceOne, a subsidiary of Violia contracted for energy procurement, helped the organization draft a request for proposals for the arrangement. SourceOne, he said, has “done very good work for us.”

Nautilus was then selected through the RFP process. “It was the best deal for the housing authorities,” Coupe said, noting that the request drew eight responses.

He also said PHARI researched the status of the solar installation projects at the heart of various proposals.

“We considered where the projects were and what the likelihood of success might be,” he said. The Nautilus proposal’s three projects, he added, were considered very likely to proceed on schedule.

“This proposal, with the likelihood of success … really just fit the bill,” he said.

Coupe also touted another benefit of the arrangement – a provision allowing the various housing authorities involved to transfer credits among one another based on need.

“There’s a tremendous amount of flexibility … Each of us an independent authority, but we’re working together to help everyone,” he said.

“We’re proud to bring our experience partnering with PHARI to support innovations that provide clean renewable energy for everyone in Rhode Island, and on a broader scale, the ecological transformation that needs to happen everywhere,” Mike Byrnes, Veolia North America senior vice president and chief executive officer of SourceOne, said in the release.

“This partnership is significant as it epitomizes Nautilus’s pledge to provide equitable, affordable access to community solar for all Rhode Islanders,” Jim Rice, co-founder and co-CEO of Nautilus, said in the release.

solar, housing


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