In the first City Planning Commission meeting of the new election term and the New Year on Jan. 3, the commission approved two preliminary plans for building projects, including a solar farm off Lippitt Avenue.
Since June, property owners DSM Realty Corporation and applicants, Southern Sky Renewable Energy RI (SSRE RI) have been working with the city on plans to develop, install and operate a 21.5 megawatt solar energy system called Gold Meadow Farms. When fully operational, the solar farm would produce about two-thirds of the electricity generated by the Deepwater Block Wind Farm, or enough electricity to power 2,500 to 3,000 homes.
Southern Sky said its goal is to provide affordable and clean alternative energy to sell to National Grid. The first of four phases of construction is set to begin in March, and the entire duration of the project is expected to last between eight and 10 months, barring any setbacks or weather interruptions.
Representatives from SSRE RI said that the solar farm would require very little maintenance and landscaping once finished. In addition, the group said they have been in regular contact with the Cranston Fire Department and will comply with city regulations, including providing annual post-construction reports. They will also fix the side of the street on certain areas of Lippitt Avenue to preserve the road and direct water runoff away from the solar site and traffic.
Southern Sky President Ralph Palumbo, CPA said Tuesday that the $45 million development goes above and beyond the “vigorous requirements” set forth by the city solar farm regulations.
“We’ve complied with every aspect of it,” he said, adding that the company has held multiple community meetings and has been “transparent” in all respects of what’s planned.
Douglas Doe, a resident of the neighborhood, which includes conservation land abutting the project, opposed the proposition with a 13-page report he presented to the commission. He cited five main reasons for his opposition, including problems with the grounds’ designs and installations. Doe’s main argument revolved around a six-foot-tall chain link fence to be built around the perimeter of the solar field. Doe said he believes the fence should be pushed back about 20 feet or so in certain areas to avoid obstructing scenery and provide a buffer for the conserved land.
“People don’t drive by conservation land just to look at it from their car, they want to enjoy the land,” Doe said. “Why is it so difficult to ask they push the fence back 20 feet along the conservation land? How many solar panels will they lose? I’m not asking for the world. It’s just absurd. At this point it’s just plain greed from my point of view.”
“You’ll find everything back here except bears,” Doe said on a visit to the property Tuesday. He noted deer tracks in the snow and questioned what the six-foot chain link fence, which he said would be more than a mile in length to surround the property, will mean to wildlife.
The solar farm would be located on about 68 acres of the 100-acre property. About 65 acres would need to be clear-cut in order to build the farm that would consist of 60,000 solar panels, Doe said. Based on industry projections, Doe estimated 700 to 800 trucks would need to use the narrow dirt road, which serves as the entrance to the neighborhood where he and others live, to deliver the panels and building materials. In addition, the road would be used for the removal of hundreds of trees to be cleared from the site.
The development on Lippitt Avenue is not the only connection SSRE has to solar farms in the area. The company was also approved to build two solar parks in Warwick last October for 1.1 and 6.2 megawatts with plans to have the parks operational by Dec. 31, 2018. Despite Doe’s efforts, the council approved the measure 7-2. Commissioners Lynne Harrington and Kimberly Bittner opposed.
The other preliminary plan approved by the commission was unanimous in favor of a 152-unit multi-family apartment complex called Champlin Heights that has been in development since June 2015. The plan is for the units to be housed in six buildings on Scituate Avenue on a little less than 17 acres of land.
Doe also challenged the Champlin Heights project for some of the same reasons, including protection of trees in the area. Doe said that the applicant has a known history of cutting down trees during building projects when it is not necessary.
“I’m just incredibly frustrated,” he said. “They just don’t get it, or just don’t want to get it.”
In other news, the council also approved minor additions to existing structures, as well as a proposal for the East Greenwich Animal Protection League to operate in an industrial building at 44 Worthington Road originally owned by the Cranston Casting Company, allowing the league to have a permanent home after temporary stays in locations around East Greenwich, Warwick and Cranston.
The City Commission will meet on January 23 at 7 p.m. The next Planning Commission meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. Both meeting will be held in the Council Chambers.
(With reports from John Howell)