State seeking towns’ input to help develop solar guidelines

State seeking towns’ input to help develop solar guidelines

CHARLESTOWN — State planning officials are traveling to several municipalities this summer to get input from leaders and the public in developing guidance on ordinances for solar power installations.

About 30 people attended a presentation Monday in Charlestown by Chris Kearns, from the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, and Nancy Hess, from the Division of Statewide Planning.

The state is soliciting feedback from the public about its initial draft of the state’s Solar Siting Policy Information PowerPoint, which it completed June 29.

“Some of this is to meet the state renewable energy standards goal set by Rhode Island general law,” Hess said. “But we’re also trying to increase public understanding of the topic and to in some way address adaptation to climate change. We’re trying to put everybody on the same page, whether you’re a developer or a municipality or an agent of state government.”

The work also aims to influence how municipalities use standards to redevelop brownfields and other contaminated sites.

“But we also have to respect landowners’ rights, follow due process and create an equitable process,” Hess said.

The state held its first public session July 18 in Cranston and will hold another Aug. 2 in Coventry.

“The next step will be to release the next draft of this, with a first draft of a model solar ordinance, around the last week of August,” Kearns said. That will be followed by another public comment period.

The state hasn’t mandated the advisory group’s work, and it is all volunteer.

“We have a bunch of different folks working on this,” Hess said, including state agencies, environmental groups, residents, farmers and solar lobbyists.

The revisions will continue in the fall, with second and third drafts of the information, followed each time by a round of public feedback opportunities.

The final versions of the solar siting PowerPoint and the model solar ordinance are due Oct. 26. Then from November through June of 2019, the Office of Energy Resources will provide technical assistance and meet with municipalities that request help in updating their solar siting ordinances, or in adopting one for the first time.

Charlestown’s ordinances contain a section regulating residential wind power facilities.

Last August, the council rejected a proposed solar farm ordinance from Vermont-based groSolar. At the time, the council agreed that an ordinance must be written, but that it should be drawn up by the Planning Commission with input from town departments and residents.

In Hopkinton on Monday, the Town Council and Planning Board discussed proposed amendments to the town’s solar energy ordinance.

The Hopkinton changes would affect nonresidential solar energy installations and would apply only to projects constructed after the date of the amendments’ passage. Several large and controversial solar proposals that are now before the town would not be affected.


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