Energy

Warwick Restricts Solar Development to Commercial, Industrial Parcels

Warwick officials have agreed on new restrictions for ground-mounted solar developments. (istock)

WARWICK, R.I. — Municipal officials approved new restrictions on solar developments Monday night, capping off a six-month period of public comment and deliberation over the city’s renewable energy regulations and comprehensive plan. Under the new laws, solar developments are restricted to already-developed commercial and industrial parcels and prohibited in residential areas and green spaces.

“At the last meeting I thought we had a good and important public hearing on this,” council President Stephen McAllister said before the March 21 vote. “We’ve been hearing from constituents for over six months, reaching out and working on these items before us.”

The new laws represent a victory for residents who organized against proposed solar developments at the Valley Country Club, Little Rhody Beagle Club of Rhode Island and the local branch of the Kent County YMCA. Members of the City Council originally proposed an overlay district last year that would have been much more permissive of ground-mounted solar development. The ordinance was pulled at then-incoming Mayor Frank Picozzi’s request.

The City Council in November voted to freeze all new solar development for six months, to give the city time to draw up new regulations and solicit public feedback. The Planning Department, led by director Tom Kravitz, solicited public feedback and proposed the inclusion of carport solar canopies as part of the new ordinance.

Residents during the public comment process expressed concerns over clear-cutting lands, preserving open space and noise.

“We have plenty of everything in this city except woodlands,” resident Barbara Walsh said at a Dec. 8 Planning Board meeting. “We don’t have enough green space in this city.”

The Planning Board issued an advisory opinion to the City Council in January to pass the ordinance as is. The council voted to approve the first passage of the solar ordinance and comprehensive plan change amendments at the end of a two-and-a-half hour meeting March 8.

Solar developer Greg Lucini, CEO of ISM Solar, was one of the few to speak out against the restrictions.

“Would I rather have solar or trees in my backyard? Of course I’m going to say I want trees, no doubt about it. The problem is trees aren’t an option,” he said.

ISM Solar was the chief developer behind the proposed projects at the Valley Country Club, Little Beagle Club and Kent County YMCA.

Tony Roderick, president of the Little Rhody Beagle Club, told council members the club had an aging and dwindling membership and was rapidly approaching insolvency. The proposed solar array would occupy a third of the 100 acres the club owns.

“If we cannot lease our land to responsible solar, the future of preservation will be required to sell it immediately and permanently to residential construction,” he said.

Residents whose property abuts solar development said it affects the quality of life and property values. Ground-mounted solar arrays traditionally move to follow the sun during the day and, according to residents, the noise they generate can vary.

Crystal Roberts lives in a two-family home abutting a solar facility on East Avenue.

“I currently reside next to one of the already-installed solar ground arrays and have seen first-hand the irreparable damages it has caused to the local environment, wildlife, and ecosystem here. But not only has this destructive and unnecessary development negatively impacted the environment, but also the health, peace and well-being of my neighbors and myself, by way of such hazards as the continual pulsing noise that can easily be heard emitting at all hours from the solar array’s inverter box,” said Roberts in written testimony to the council.

Other residents stressed the problem was not solar development, but permitting them near where people live.

“The new policies do not eliminate solar from the toolbox … the policies advanced in the new ordinance could support up to 350 megawatts of solar development on commercial properties, industrial properties, contaminated sites, parking lots and rooftops,” resident Bob Oberg said.

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  1. Why not put solar on the airport’s clear zones? No trees would need to be cut down. The land is being used for nothing now.

  2. the Johnston Sunrise has stories about a similar issue in Johnston where some of the last unprotected woodlands (and all the creatures who live there) are threatened by these solar “farms” aka solar industrial sites which also have impacts elsewhere from the mining for materials and from manufacture. Those who talk of solar as “clean energy” need to reassess.

  3. Solar over parking lots. Great for all concerned. Double use of property: parking and power generation. No trees removed. No ground vegetation disturbed. No woodland creatures displaced. Parked cars protected from solar radiation/heating, so cooler for owner returning to car. Increased life of asphalt without solar degradation. Cars protected from rain. Seems a win for all concerned.
    .
    Move the Water! https://youtu.be/bjHxkxRWAs0

  4. Great start, Warwick! Well done. There isn’t a single good reason to clear-cut woodland in order to generate more solar power, whether it is near residents or not. Goodness knows there is plenty of asphalt and commercial property to work with there!
    As for the gentleman from the Beagle Club, he has a good point. He also offers a threat, but it’s valid. Perhaps the city can work with the Club to allow a limited solar farm to help save the Club’s finances and keep it running. In return, though, the City should insist upon a “first right of refusal” on purchase of the land should the Club fail anyway.

  5. If the city does not want solar and does not want house construction, how does it propose to satisfy the Beagle Club folks? They need the money. Does the city have the funds to buy the property for green space from the club. These fellows pretty clearly want to do the right thing, but now what?

  6. @ Pam Thomas, check out meeting footage/Beagle Club guy starts speaking @ 4:03:23 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNea0-SprjY&ab_channel=CityofWarwick (or better, the whole section of public comments for/against the proposal). He mentions an offer from the city to buy the land through bonds, etc… around 4:07:04 in, saying that “we are not interested in discussing a purchase of the land by the city through bonds other means” alluding to that possibly having been up for discussion by the City… giving the reason that “we feel disrespected by the City” because “no one wants to listen.” Listening is one thing, but the City has to take into account other voices as well, (thankfully), so it’s more like they felt disrespected that they weren’t getting their way/for the City having a moratorium on the solar plans, I would imagine… Honestly, if he was really as all-in for conservation/preservation of the land, and there was an option to discuss the City buying the land w/bonds, sounds like he let his pride get in the way. Idk if they looked into land conservation grants that might help them out as well, but there are surely options besides solar or housing. At any rate, I’m not so sure that the city DOESN’T want house construction… which is obvious from some of the City Council members comments in this & the 3/21/07 meeting where the ordinance was discussed more and passed.

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