HOPKINTON — With Barbara Capalbo and David Husband opposed, the Town Council voted to approve amendments to the town’s zoning map and comprehensive plan to allow the construction of a large solar energy project.
The applicant, Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy LLC of Warwick, plans to build a large solar array on property owned by Maxson Hill LLC at 310 Main Street in Ashaway.
In order to allow the construction of the 11.75-megawatt project, which will occupy up to 58 acres of the 137-acre site, it was necessary to change the RFR 80, or residential, zone to commercial.
The number of photovoltaic panels has not been specified, but the construction of the array will require clear-cutting up to 22,000 trees.
This project comes on the heels of another, previously approved application for a 43,000-panel solar energy facility, also in Ashaway, that will involve the clearing of approximately 30,000 trees.
The Planning Board and Town Council held a workshop on April 23 to discuss the issue of solar energy projects that require the cutting of forests and the destruction of open space, and to consider possible amendments to the town’s solar energy ordinance. As the discussion of possible amendments to the town’s solar ordinance continues, however, council President Frank Landolfi, council Vice President Thomas Buck and Councilor Sylvia Thompson said they felt the Main Street project should go forward.
“Solar — there’s no septic system, they’re not looking for a well,” Thompson said. “They’ve done their best, all that testimony and the experts at hand, we should adopt all that.”
(The developer presented several experts who testified in favor of the project.)
Landolfi said he felt the project was a good one that would not require any town services.
“Aside from new revenue and not using any town services, to date, this is only the third solar project we have approved,” he said.
However, Capalbo and Husband argued that the project would generate little tax revenue and create no jobs.
“This parcel, if we allow the zone change, will bring no jobs, no economic development and no houses, no one to pay taxes or spend money,” Capalbo said.
Teachers and parents who want the vacant 1904 Ashaway School building demolished came prepared to persuade the Town Council that it was necessary, but the council didn’t need convincing.
Members agreed that while it is structurally solid, the old building, which is next to the current Ashaway Elementary School and has sat vacant since 2006, needed to come down for safety reasons. There was also agreement that elements of the building, remembered fondly by many former students, would be salvaged to include in a memorial once the building has been taken down.
Ashaway Fire Chief Ronnie Sposato described the old school as “the single biggest fire hazard in the whole town of Hopkinton.”
“The proximity to the new building, the lack of water, the lack of a sprinkler system,” he continued. “A fire ... would produce heat on that building in excess of 1,000 degrees, so if that building really got going, our chances of saving both buildings is slim to none.”
Police Chief David Palmer said he applauded the council’s agreement on the need to demolish the vacant building because its size and orientation make it difficult for police officers to patrol the current school.
“Over the last few years, we’ve had no less than eight people that have vandalized inside there,” he added.
Teachers and parents urged the council to put the welfare of the children first and remove the old school, which, they argued, is both a fire and security hazard.
Landolfi said it will cost approximately $130,000 to demolish the building, an expense that had not been included in the town’s 2018-19 budget, which begins July 1. It was agreed that the possibility of state funding for the demolition should be explored and that the Chariho Regional School District might also pick up part of the tab.