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Toray Unveils State's Largest Solar Farm

Rhode Island's largest consumer of electricity is getting a power boost from its new solar farm.

Spanning three acres in the heart of Quonset Business Park, Toray Plastics America unveiled its new solar farm recently — the largest solar farm in Rhode Island.

Construction on the $2-million project finished in August, nearly a year after Toray began the process to install the 445-kilowatt solar photovoltaic farm. Comprised of 1,650 solar panels between two separate farms on Toray’s 85.5-acre campus, the farms are expected to generate 624,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year to help the company offset its electricity costs.

Toray Plastics, which has locations in 19 countries under its parent company Toray Industries, specializes in manufacturing materials such as films formerly found in VHS tapes, carbon fiber (like the one used in the energy efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which uses 20 percent less fuel) and the aluminum lining in potato chip bags.

But, something as simple as the lining in your Doritos bag takes electricity, and lots of it. Toray is the state’s largest consumer of energy, and with rising electricity costs, the company is looking to lessen the blow of its electric bill. Since Toray built its plant in Quonset, it has seen its electricity costs rise from $11 million in the mid 1990s to $25 million today. The Institute for Energy Research reports Rhode Island has the eighth-highest electricity price per kilowatt hour in the nation. The power generated from the solar farm amounts to less than one percent of Toray’s needed power, according to Toray.

The 1,650 panels rotate on an axis, pivoting east to west with the movement of the sun, taking a total of 30 minutes to pitch from one side to the other.

The panels were immediately put to the test only a few weeks after construction wrapped up as Tropical Storm Irene barreled through the region. But, the panels held up to the strong winds and members of Toray are optimistic about the farm’s next weather obstacle — this year’s winter. Osada says that the panels can be rotated up to a 50º angle to avoid snow piling up on top of them.

The project was financed by Toray and state and federal funds, including stimulus funding from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Toray also received a $1 million grant from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation

“If we didn’t have that stimulus money, we couldn’t have made this project,” said Senior Vice President Shigeru Osada.

Toray estimates that the project will have paid for itself in about three years — 35 years if the stimulus money had been absent.

Elise Burroughs October 29, 2011 at 04:44 PM
What an interesting project!
Therese Vezeridis October 30, 2011 at 01:17 PM
Always Great to read a story that stimulates the Economy in RI!
john boscardin October 31, 2011 at 01:47 AM
Well done Toray.This is how alternative energy should be developed. Private industry utilizing technology to make themselves more cometitive; not developers trying to capitalize on a loophole in regulations for profit, at the expense of the taxpayers.
Matt October 31, 2011 at 12:28 PM
So we, the taxpayers, paid $1 million so Toray can save money on electricity? And the project won't even produce 1% of the electricity that Toray needs? And people think this is a succes story?? If the solar panels resulted in a big reduction in consumption, say 50% or more, I would have no problem helping to fund projects like this. But to throw $1 million at a huge corporation so they can have their project paid off in 3 years versus 35 years is a huge waste of resources in my opinion. That $1 million would be much better spent coming up with better technology and/ or solutions for alternative energy.
trudy1 October 31, 2011 at 01:22 PM
Toray was about to see its electricity costs skyrocket because of that stupid wind farm and was considering moving out of state and taking its jobs with it. Toray has a bunch of jobs in RI. Now it's staying. Blame the stupid people responsible for the wind farm for this one.
Joe Smith October 31, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Okay,,a little math here. The project will generate 1% of Toray's electric need, which currently costs Toray $25M. So, the savings to Toray is $250,000 ($25M x .01), assuming negligible operating costs to run the panels. Now, the project cost close to $2M. RIEDC picked up $1M. Some stimulus money was involved as well. If the project will have paid for itself in 3 years, then Toray's outlay was around $750,000 ($250,000 X 3) -- makes sense so far. The puzzling comment is the "35 years" is taxpayers didn't pay for about 60% of the cost. If Toray recoups its 40% investment in 3 years, it should recoup the full $2M in 8 years. Assuming Toray perhaps would finance the project, then interest charges would add more -- but another 27 years?? If this project is tied to Toray's expansion, then perhaps the state recoups its investment in job creation so the grant may be worthwhile. Trudy is correct in that RI residents are basically subsidizing Deepwater's proof of concept project. RI is highly dependent on natural gas generated electricity, which given the abundance of natural gas, is not so terrible at the moment. As evidenced by at least 3 solar companies filing for bankruptcy (including the Solyndra company that received substantial federal loan guarantees) and the fact taxpayers have to subsidize ethanol producers, many alternative energy sources are just not cost effective now, despite the hype and "green" appeal.
trudy1 October 31, 2011 at 05:59 PM
However, my understanding is that the cost of solar is dropping substantially due to technical advances. In just the next few years, it will be cost effective. I'd a lot rather see solar panels on housetops than giant, noisy, flickering, ground vibrating, bird killing, blade throwing wind turbines around.
Matt November 01, 2011 at 01:19 PM
I'd like to see money like this invested into research for making the technological advances needed for these projects to be cost-effective. It makes no sense to throw this money at projects just for the sake of producing alternative energy and making headlines. For alternative energy to work and be attractive, it needs to be cost-effective WITHOUT government subsidies.
Joe Smith November 01, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Trudy - Solar costs are dropping due to the glut of supply (ie. panels) -- one of the main reasons those companies filed for bankruptcy. Also, while perhaps concentrated solar power technologies may make solar more cost effective (assuming no other side effects like burning down the structure occur), we still have abundance of natural gas and oil (look at North Dakota) at cost effective prices. Yes, one day we'll exhaust fossil fuels so we need to invest smartly in alternative forms, but fund deep research to identify promising technologies and let the private sector risk their capital exploiting the best candidates instead of throwing a lot of money (or shifting to the rate paying consumer) at highly suspect and costly technology just because going "green" must occur now.

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