Cranston Planning Commission Gives Solar Project Along Pawtuxet River the OK


CRANSTON, R.I. — A proposal for a solar facility along the banks of the Pawtuxet River is expected to put the city’s new solar ordinance to the test.

Warwick-based solar developer Revity Energy has leased a small sliver of a parcel, about 2.4 acres, from the Pawtuxet River Authority & Watershed Council (PRA) to build a 0.4-megawatt solar development at the end of Ross Simons Drive.

The project, Sharpe Drive Solar, is applying for the state’s Renewable Energy Growth Program, and would connect to a Rhode Island Energy substation that directly abuts the property. The project received approval of its master plan application from the Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

The proposed site is currently zoned as an industrial area and is a third of a mile away from the nearest homes in Cranston. It’s not the first time the site has seen development. Prior to 2022, the PRA rented the land to AgCore Technologies LLC, a manufacturer of aquatic plant-derived products, which built two greenhouses and paid $9,600 annually in rent.

The remainder of the property outside the project zone, which totals some 50 acres, including the portion that is leased to Revity, contains 20 acres of wetlands and a big section of the Howard Conservation Area that stretches into Warwick. For years the conservation area — which is in name only; there is no actual conservation easement on the lease as the developers are swift to point out — was used as a local dumping ground, but has been brought back into a passive recreation area and wildlife refuge by the PRA.

Despite the environmental progress, there remains a land-use restriction on its deed. The groundwater has been deemed to be contaminated by the state Department of Environmental Management, likely from the former Cranston Landfill that abuts the property to the northwest — itself now the site of a solar facility that became operational in 2021.

The area is home to a variety of wetland habitats and wildlife, including deer, wild turkey, fox, orioles, cormorant, redheaded woodpeckers, night herons, and, according to a 2021 report by the PRA, bald eagles.

Scott Rabideau, a wetlands biologist employed for the project by Revity Energy, told members of the Planning Commission on July 11 that the property is a “mosaic of different wetland types … that means we have a better habitat from a wildlife perspective.”

“My preliminary opinion is our project is not going to have a significant adverse impact on the wildlife habitat values of this riverine wetlands system,” he said.

The Sharpe Drive Solar project is the first project to be considered by city officials under the new solar ordinance passed by the City Council in early 2020. Written after years of sturm und drang from local residents over the clear-cutting of forests for solar projects, the ordinance puts new restrictions on and additional requirements for each stage of development, including more detailed plans on transmission, electrical infrastructure upgrades, as well as an operation and maintenance plans.

Applicants are also required to bury the transmission cables underground when feasible and submit a noise study before receiving a final building permit.

Projects at the master plan stage, such as the Sharpe Drive Solar project, are required to include a preliminary interconnection feasibility study from the utility company, showing where the project will feed into the electrical grid and an estimate of how much it will cost.

An attorney for the project, Robert Murray, told commission members burying the cables for the project would not be feasible due to the contaminated soil on the property, noting that a utility substation directly abuts the site.

“It’s probably the most convenient connection in the history of solar connections,” Murray said.

But others expressed concerns that the company hasn’t done its due diligence. In written testimony to the commission, the West Bay Land Trust said the interconnection feasibility study did not meet the requirements of the solar ordinance, noting the report provided by Rhode Island Energy said it should not be used to infer any interconnection ability for the project.

“Has the preliminary study been completed?” wrote Doug Doe, president of the West Bay Land Trust. “If not, then the July 11 hearing is premature and should be continued or postponed until such time as the study is available for review by the Commission and the public as required by the ordinance.”

The developers pushed back, noting the report from Rhode Island Energy specified two feeders within the nearby substation that would be available for the project to use, and quoted the price for transmission lines, $500,000 per mile, from the report.

Steve Stycos, a former City Council member, asked the commission to consider the project carefully and expressed concerns about the impact the project could have on the nearby river.

“What I’m concerned about is that the water runs off the panels and then erodes the bank going into the river and takes those contaminants into the river,” Stycos said.

The master plan was approved by unanimous vote.


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  1. Let’s see if my comment shows up this time… I tried commenting on the article about new state laws for solar and my remark never appeared. 🙁 Anyway… The river proximity does seem concerning, especially with risk of flooding, which is clearly an issue that RI is going to continue to deal with. I wonder if recent changes to the Clean Water Act have provided more leniency? It seems like this study has been largely ignored: and that’s a shame. Solar projects are probably going to be outdone in the future by something newer and more efficient – and hopefully something that’s makes less of a footprint. California is already dealing with huge hazardous waste issues from solar projects, and those are the often the smaller & less hazardous rooftop panels! I just hope those making decisions for today can take a longer view and not be pressured by greedy solar developers or unreasonable clean energy “goals” into making hasty decisions. This comment isn’t specific to this project in particular, but solar throughout RI… Once you cut down trees, alter ecosystems, displace wildlife, contaminate land & water, it can take decades or longer to restore. You’ll also see a lot more coyotes, deer, bob cats, etc. in neighborhoods when you force them from their habitat and cut off wildlife corridors. The emissions from the coverter boxes are not only a nuisance to humans in proximity of them, but also a concern for birds and insects who rely on sound and frequency to mate, communicate where there’s food or danger, migrate, etc. Power to the peaceful!

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