Richmond board signs off on plans for two 250-watt solar projects

Richmond board signs off on plans for two 250-watt solar projects

Record-Journal

RICHMOND – Members of the Planning Board have approved plans for two solar energy projects to be built on land owned by Carl Richard and his wife, Carolyn, who serves on the board. She recused herself from Tuesday’s proceedings, which constituted final approval of the work, subject to several conditions.

The Richmond Conservation Commission raised several questions about the impact of the two installations and also asked the town to slow its approvals of solar projects, which are being proposed in increasing numbers.

The two projects will be built by Southern Sky Renewable Energy R.I. LLC and are similar in size. Each will comprise 712 solar panels and generate 250 kilowatts of electricity.

The first project will be built on 78 acres of farmland on North Shannock Road. The array will occupy approximately 1 acre. Project engineer David Russo of DiPrete Engineering said there would be minimal disturbance at the site, which will use an existing access road. The facility will be protected by a 6-foot security fence. Some of the larger trees at the site, however, would be removed so the panels would receive full sun.

“The area will be an entirely grassy area,” Russo told the board. “We’re also proposing to cut down some of the larger trees outside the fence line, but we’ll leave the low-lying vegetation. It’s a solar development, so the shade-cast is a concern, so they’re going to remove the larger trees that could cast shade.”

West Shannock Road

The second array is planned for West Shannock Road and occupy 1.9 acres, of which the solar panels will take up less than an acre. The site does not have an existing access road, and Russo said a permeable road would be built.

Nancy Hess, board vice chair, raised several concerns that had been submitted in writing by the Conservation Commission. It has asked that the sites undergo more careful study to determine whether a state-listed rare milkweed species, Asclepias amplexicaulis, is growing there. Both sites are located in a Natural Heritage Area, designated by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management as a noteworthy natural community that may contain rare plant or animal species.

“There’s a Natural Heritage Area on the site, confirmed by DEM, and there’s a plant of particular concern, a listed plant species,” Hess said.

Russo said the developer had hired a biologist to survey the two parcels, but would be willing to hire a botanist to determine the presence of the milkweed and other special plants.

“At least we’ll know what we have and then we can make a decision based on that,” said Philip Damicis, who chairs the board.

The Conservation Commission also expressed concerns about the cutting of larger trees as well as the security fences, which could disrupt the movement of small animals. Russo agreed to raise the fences at both sites 6 inches off the ground to allow animals to pass under them.

Botanical survey

The board voted to approve both development plans, but with conditions that included a botanical survey of both sites, raised security fences, and the preservation of agricultural soils.

James Turek, who chairs the Conservation Commission, said that with solar energy proposals being submitted to the town at an ever-increasing rate, he had submitted the comments to prompt a discussion of these and other projects.

“I thought we had to get some comments in there to start a dialog,” he said. “There are many issues that need to be resolved with these projects. Even though they were two small projects associated with Carolyn Richard’s property, I felt like we at least needed to start giving input on how things are being looked at.”

Turek said his group would be fully engaged with the town’s solar energy development discussions.

“We’re not just rolling over and saying ‘Hey, these solar panel farms are a great idea,’ he said. “There’s many challenges that come with that, and that’s what we wanted to do, was start getting stuff on the table...We need to take a step back on these things in our town and look at what other towns are doing and try to find a strategy as to how these projects should be sited, because now, it’s getting out of hand.”

cdrummond@thewesterlysun.com

@cynthiadrummon4


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