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.