Westerly meeting Thursday to collect input on state guidelines for solar siting, taxation

Westerly meeting Thursday to collect input on state guidelines for solar siting, taxation

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WESTERLY — State planning officials will be looking for input Thursday as they continue developing proposed guidance on ordinances for solar power installations.

Representatives of the state Division of Statewide Planning and the Office of Energy Resources will be on hand for a meeting scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Town Hall. The meeting will focus on the second draft of the state’s proposed solar siting information PowerPoint presentation and the first draft of a proposed solar model siting/taxation ordinance. Five other such meetings have been conducted in Charlestown, Hopkinton, Coventry, Cranston and Providence. Input from the public and town officials is being sought.

The material will eventually provide municipalities with ideas on how to develop comprehensive solar ordinances that consider residential as well as commercial- and industrial-zoned lands and other already-developed sites. Potential ways to handle solar proposals for currently undeveloped land and farmland as well as possible uses of landfills, brownfields, and parking lots will also be covered.

“We’re not mandating anything, this is just guidance,” said Christopher Kearns, chief of program development at the state Office of Energy Resources.

Kearns and Nancy Hess, supervising planner with Division of Statewide Planning, will facilitate the meeting, which is open to the public. A goal, Kearns said, is to provide municipalities with model siting and taxation ordinances that will work hand-in-hand. The state is recommending that municipalities adopt both siting and solar-taxation ordinances at the same time to avoid confusion.

A portion of the meeting will be dedicated to reviewing the 49-page PowerPoint presentation. Creation of the state’s guidance material comes as part of the state’s Energy Plan 2035, which aims to have 45 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2035.

The PowerPoint promotes developing ordinances that are appropriate for a given community. In other words, Kearns said, “one size does not fit all.”

“We’ll take a look at it to see how some of the ideas may or may not fit in Westerly,” Kearns said.

The current draft of the PowerPoint presentation recommends consideration of flexible and different acreage-lot coverages depending on the proposed solar-project site. Also recommended are provisions that reflect the differing sizes of solar projects and striking a balance between avoiding barriers to solar projects and protection from potential negative effects. The presentation also makes suggestions on how towns should review solar-project applications and recommends a development-plan review by municipal planning boards and staff depending on the size and location of the project.

The meeting comes as town officials are working on devising a local solar ordinance. In May, a draft of the ordinance was presented to the Town Council by Lisa Pellegrini, Department of Development Services director. The town draft has since been distributed to the conservation and economic development commissions, the Planning Board, and the Zoning Board of Review. On Tuesday, Pellegrini said she hopes to present a second draft to the Town Council early next year after incorporating the input of the boards and commissions and a review by the town’s lawyers.

“I believe we should have an ordinance that is unique to the town. I’m really grateful for the vetting that was performed. We received good input from the town boards and commissions,” Pellegrini said.

In July, the Town Council gave Town Manager J. Mark Rooney authorization to negotiate terms of a contract with Ameresco Inc., of Framingham, Mass., to develop a solar-power project on a 30-acre property on White Rock Road. The town plans to buy the land and an adjoining 70 acres for $3.34 million from Rawson Materials, which operates a quarry on the property that was formerly owned by Cherenzia Excavation. Under terms of a proposal submitted by Ameresco, the company would make a $3 million up-front payment to the town to cover most of the cost of buying the land. The town would repay the payment through savings on electricity bills.



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