Warwick limits solar development to commercial and industrial plots

WARWICK, RI — City officials approved new restrictions on solar developments Monday evening, capping a six-month period of public comment and deliberation on regulations and the city’s comprehensive renewable energy plan. Under the new laws, solar developments are limited to already developed commercial and industrial plots and prohibited in residential areas and green spaces.

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

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 The ordinance was withdrawn at the request of new mayor Frank Picozzi.

City Council in November voted to freeze all new solar development for six months, to give the city time to develop new regulations and seek public comment. The planning department, led by director Tom Kravitz, has sought public comment and proposed the inclusion of solar carport canopies as part of the new ordinance.

During the public consultation process, residents expressed concerns about the clearcutting of land, the preservation of open spaces and noise.

“We have a lot of everything in this town except woods,” resident Barbara Walsh said at a Dec. 8 planning board meeting. “We don’t have enough green space in this city.”

The Planning Board gave an advisory opinion to the city council in January to adopt the ordinance as is. The council voted to approve the first pass of the solar ordinance and comprehensive changes to the plan at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour meeting on 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 energy or trees in my garden? Of course, I’m going to say I want trees, there’s no doubt about that. The problem is that trees are not an option,” he said.

ISM Solar was lead developer for proposed projects at Valley Country Club, Little Beagle Club and Kent County YMCA.

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

“If we can’t lease our land to responsible solar, the future of preservation will have to sell it immediately and permanently to residential construction,” he said.

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

Crystal Roberts lives in a building attached to a solar installation on East Avenue.

“It has impacted the health, peace and well-being of my neighbors and myself through such dangerous and continuous pulsating noise which can be easily heard emitted at all hours from the housing of solar generator inverter,” Roberts said in written testimony to the board.

Other residents pointed out that the issue was not solar development, but allowing them to be closer to where people live.

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

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