Ensuring solar review is as thorough and specific as it needs to be

Posted 4/1/21

To the Editor:

Regarding the Native Avenue solar project, I would like to thank the developer’s attorney for writing to the editor to try to address concerns expressed in my own letter of …

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Ensuring solar review is as thorough and specific as it needs to be


To the Editor:

Regarding the Native Avenue solar project, I would like to thank the developer’s attorney for writing to the editor ["Solar project has undergone extensive review," March 25] to try to address concerns expressed in my own letter of two weeks ago, and would like to respond to some of his comments.

In referencing the URI study that found that homes in close proximity to large-scale solar development lose market value, the attorney wrote, “The statistical analysis compiled by a local professor is nothing more than a bunch of numbers put in a computer to achieve his desired premise ...”

During the March Planning Commission meeting where the researcher, Professor Corey Lang, testified about his research, that same attorney admitted that he himself “was never a math major or a statistics major,” and therefore is “not perhaps the proper person to challenge [the professor] on these things.” Yet in his letter, he not only challenged him, but attempted to discredit his work by implying that it was a biased attempt to prove a predetermined point.

As we all learned in eighth-grade science, all research starts with a hypothesis, which is then proved or disproved based on evidence. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but putting “a bunch of numbers into a computer” is exactly how such analyses are conducted, and how conclusions based on mathematically derived facts are drawn. It’s how economists identify trends - which is just what Professor Lang did.

Here’s a bit more detail on that study.

To reach his conclusions, Professor Lang studied transactions involving 400,000 homes over a 14-year period. The homes were located within three miles of where a solar array would eventually be installed (284 sites in total). Based on the data analysis, Lang determined that the values of homes located within a mile of a solar site do indeed decline, and those within one-tenth of a mile fall by an average of 7 percent – which represents tens of thousands of dollars to the average Cranston homeowner. Lang also found that solar sites constructed in suburban farmland or forest – such as the Natick Avenue site – typically have a greater negative impact on home values than those located in rural areas or on brownfields and other similar sites.

Understandably, these facts make the Natick Ave site developer and its attorney uncomfortable because they indicate a potentially damaging financial impact on more than 100 homes in the surrounding area (and quite possibly, the city itself if real estate taxes are also affected).

In his letter, the attorney also stated, “The professor acknowledges that his study did not consider the positive impact of screening and buffering near surrounding homes ... The Natick Avenue solar project includes a landscape and buffering plan of historic proportions. The developer went through an extensive review and modifications to its landscape plans and participated in a never used advisory committee process ...”

Hyperbole aside, as abutting neighbors, my husband and I monitored this landscape plan process closely and provided input and feedback to our advisory committee representatives and the Planning Department. We are very grateful that both the Planning Department and the Planning Commission went above and beyond standard procedures to ensure that our voices were heard and our interests, protected. (Recall that the only reason this project has been permitted to proceed is because it received preliminary, conditional approval prior to the ordinance change banning solar development from Cranston’s residential neighborhoods. Many harsh lessons were learned from the Hope and Lippitt projects, and that was part of the reason for establishing a “never [before] used advisory committee.”)

The issue I brought up in my previous letter to the editor did not relate to the so-called “plan of historic proportions“ itself (which as initially presented was nothing more than a wooden fence), but the length of time for which the landowner would be responsible for ensuring that the plantings thrive.  

Currently, the proposal promises a three-year warranty. I and many of my fellow neighbors feel our interests would be better served if the commitment covered the life of the lease (25-plus years). If, as the attorney seems to postulate, a high-quality landscape buffer would help mitigate property-value losses, then wouldn’t a length-of-lease commitment to maintain that buffer make even more sense – for both the city and its residents?

During the March Planning Commission meeting, the landscape architect hired to provide a third-party assessment stated that if all goes as expected, we’d have a good idea about viability of the landscaping at five years, implying that the plantings would likely be fully established by then. If that is indeed the case, then what harm would it do to extend the commitment to the life of the lease? If the plants continue to thrive, as expected, there is no issue. If the plants subsequently succumb to some unforeseen problem, the landowner will be required to replace them, and the abutting neighbors’ interests are protected for as long as the solar array is in place. Isn’t that the ultimate intention of the buffer?

The attorney’s conclusion stated, “One final word on blasting. Revity Energy [the developer] has committed to using mechanical means to address any ledge outcroppings if possible. An experienced blaster would be engaged as a last resort but some limited blasting will likely occur.” Notably, he navigated around my specific concern on this topic as well.

At nearly every meeting, we have been told that at least some blasting will occur. The original Master Plan conditions included a statement intended to help protect the neighbors from blasting damage. However, at the Planning Department’s direction, the condition was unexpectedly removed prior to the February (continued to March) Planning Commission meeting. The reason given was that the condition was vague and beyond the city’s jurisdiction to enforce. In other words, the only measure of protection the abutters had against blasting damage was summarily redlined from the list of conditions.

If damage is done to our property due to blasting (or any activity associated with this project, for that matter), we simply want to be assured that we will be reimbursed accordingly. And we’d like that spelled out, in writing, in the conditions associated with approval of this project – as was the original intent of the condition. If blasting will be kept to a minimum, and the risk of damage is truly minimal as the developer and its attorney contend, then adding verbiage to protect the neighboring properties shouldn’t be a big deal either.

We, the Natick Avenue neighbors, appreciate the extraordinary efforts the Planning Commission has been undertaking to ensure fairness and reasonableness to all parties. This project is “historic” in at least one more way than the attorney indicated: It’s the last one to ever be evaluated under an old, bad, now defunct ordinance. Let’s all make sure that evaluation is as thorough and specific as it needs to be – not just for the developers and the landowner, but for current and future neighbors as well.

The Planning Commission continued its decision on the Natick Avenue project to its next meeting Tuesday, April 6, at 6:30 pm. We hope to see many community members on the Zoom in support of all of our efforts.

P.S.: Interested parties can learn more about Professor Lang’s study by clicking here or by viewing his full testimony, as well as the attorney’s questioning of it, in the recording of the March 2 Planning Commission meeting. The testimony begins at approximately the 40-minute mark.

Carol Swanson



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