The rooftop community solar project at Echo Valley Apartments is providing residents an opportunity that would otherwise not be afforded to them. When deciding how to maximize the space of the rooftops best, Fairstead, the corporate owner of the apartment complex, decided to move ahead with the more complicated option. In return, it extended the generation of solar energy to tenants to provide them with affordable clean energy.
According to Fairstead director of energy and sustainability, Michael Gilbert, not using the rooftops at Echo Valley would have “been a waste.” Though opting for community solar required more red tape, regulatory processes, and involvement of local municipalities and authorities, the rooftop community solar project offered a bigger return to the community. Additionally, by not going for the community solar options, Fairfield would have been giving up more energy.
As it was built, the rooftop community solar facility generates 497-kilowatts of renewable power for approximately 100 families at Echo Valley. Any leftover electricity is filtered out to homeowners who opted to subscribe to the program. According to Fairstead, the community solar program is the first of its kind located within an affordable housing complex in Rhode Island.
The project is a bigger accomplishment because community solar is still a new concept to Rhode Island. The first installation was only constructed and made operational in 2019, and only an additional 17 have been or started development since. An increase in community solar developments in Rhode Island will mean more cost savings passed down to homeowners in the form of monthly utility credits. It also allows residents to participate in clean energy without having to install costly private rooftop panels.
Like the Echo Valley Apartment array, community solar is intended to focus on underserved regions and neighborhoods. Founding partner of Fairstead, Will Blodgett, noted the lack of solar opportunities for low-income communities and confirmed that the company strives for energy efficiency to help reduce the burden of high power bills.
Though Fairstead still has more apartment complexes in development, it hasn’t confirmed whether community solar will be part of the finished product.