Hopkinton Skeptical of Proposed 148-Acre Solar Installation
February 7, 2020
HOPKINTON, R.I. — The temperature inside Town Hall on a recent Wednesday night was stifling. People wedged themselves onto long, wooden benches, eager to listen to and comment on the pre-approval stage of a proposed solar facility by RI-95 LLC, a Warwick-based developer.
“I’m Walter Manning, principal of the company, and I was born and raised in southern Rhode Island,” he said at the Feb. 5 Planning Board meeting.
Manning was joined by Sergio Cherenzia, project engineer, and Kevin Orchid, a solar-panel specialist.
The proposal, called “Stone Ridge at Hopkinton,” would take a 252-acre parcel on Palmer Circle and transform some 148 acres into a solar facility with five 2-story buildings. The proposed solar installation would be one of the largest in the state, if not New England. The entire proposal has no provision for open space and would cover most of the property.
When asked by Planning Board member Carolyn Light what they were planning to put into the buildings on the property, Cherenzia said, “We haven’t defined specifically what they would be used for.”
But the rest of the property would definitively be used for a utility-scale solar installation.
Cherenzia noted that parcel, which is almost entirely wooded, isn’t within any natural heritage area, scenic road corridor, or state-designated scenic area.
The tree-covered and stone-walled lined land was bought by RI-95 LLC last spring from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe for $750,000. Company officials have argued that since the property is zoned special commercial, this means it allows for solar development.
But a majority of the five-member Planning Board, as well as most of the residents at the recent meeting, begged to differ, citing the rezoning of the property in 1990 from residential to commercial special, which was originally done to permit the building of a golf course and hotel that never materialized, as not considering solar as the part of the equation.
“Clearly, at that time the vocabulary that they’re using today was not even contemplated,” Planning Board chairman Alfred DiOrio said. “So, to automatically jump to the idea that solar is allowed here is not really acceptable to me. I’m not prepared to accept that just yet. We need to go back to what the Town Council and the Planning Board approved, back when this was resolved. It does not include solar.”
For concerned residents, the idea of cutting down trees to make way for fields of ground-mounted solar arrays tears at the heart of what makes Hopkinton a retreat from the densely populated and congested Rhode Island.
“I moved to Hopkinton to get away from Route 2 in Warwick; I moved here for green space and community,” said Peter Conopask, a resident and member of the Planning Board from 1979-81. “I didn’t move here for this. The rules can’t change for a few specific people.”
Town planner James Lamphere suggested that the Planning Board ask town solicitor Kevin McAllister to look into the original zoning change and what the intent of the Town Council was at the time.
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Wow, another 148 acres gone? I fear the environmental community has dropped the ball on protecting woodlands, maybe victimized by their feel-good sound bite that solar energy is "clean energy" that these developers must appreciate.
Compared to coal and natural gas Solar energy is actually "clean energy". I don’t think we should be fiddling as Rome burns.
So they were fine with the trees being cut down to build a golf course that consumes thousands of gallons of water and fertilizer but not a site for clean renewable energy that will help thwart life ending climate change? That’s a short sighted head scratcher.
Crazy to think, RI would chop a forest down that helps with carbon, supports land stabilization and wildlife, for solar panels. I am not against solar… Think of how many large parking lots and box stores where solar panels can be placed without loosing ANY trees. (See the Norwood, MA T station, which did this over the parking lot). That price tag of land seems suspicious, $750k for 252 acres????
This area is part of the Wood Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers NATIONAL Designation: http://wpwildrivers.org/ The town of Hopkinton is appallingly letting the Solar companies decimate this newly desiganated resource. If Gina Ramondo wants to truly make the State an example of renewable energy, She would put Solar and wind all along the highways of RI.
Here’s something for the solar advocates to consider.
Asking the current town solicitor to read the minds of the former planning board and town council is the equivalent to asking Karnack to come back from the dead. Sure, cut town 100 plus acres of trees and woodlands in the name of solar "environmentalism" is absurd and should not be allowed in our town. The folks in Hopkinton need to ensure when they vote in this years Election, they research the candidates and explore who is solar friendly and who believes in maintaining the rural nature of Hopkinton.
Steve Wiehl- Independent Candidate for Town Council