Hopkinton Town Council briefed on Rhode Island’s solar energy laws

Hopkinton Town Council briefed on Rhode Island’s solar energy laws


HOPKINTON — Town councilors got a lesson in the state’s evolving laws regarding solar energy development Monday night.

Christopher Kearns, Chief of Program Development for the state Office of Energy Resources, met with members of the council at a workshop to explain new and changing solar energy law’s

The state is offering technical assistance to towns as they navigate the expanding renewable energy landscape, and will help towns interested in developing renewable projects on town-owned properties with preparing requests for proposals and soliciting offers from developers. Hopkinton has seen a dramatic increase in the number of applications for solar energy projects. The council recently approved the largest proposal to date, which would be built on 63 acres in Ashaway.

“We’ve offered to go out and educate, whether it’s planning boards or town councils, about the state of renewable energy programs so as they’re working on their ordinances, they’re mindful of the state programs,” Kearns said.

The state passed enabling legislation during the last session that allows towns to charge $5 per kilowatt on tangible property for solar projects. Hopkinton wasted no time in taking advantage of the opportunity, and recently passed an amendment to its tax ordinance which will allow the town to charge the tax.

Kearns explained the concept of virtual net metering, a formula that came into effect only last July in which a public entity such as a town, a hospital or a school receives the energy credits for the power generated by a solar facility elsewhere. The recipients of the energy credits are known as “off takers.”

“If the renewable energy system is in Hopkinton, and say Rhode Island Hospital wants to get some solar generation, they could be identified as an energy off taker and receive those credits toward their electricity bill,” Kearns explained.

The state is also developing a single, statewide solar permit application. Beginning in Jan. 2018, all applications, regardless of size, will require a standard application form.

Councilors said their main concern was an amendment to the state’s Farm Forests and Open Space Act signed by Gov. Gina Raimondo in July which will permit farmers to convert part of their land to solar energy but allow a municipality to charge a higher tax on the converted portion of land.

“If a farmer converts that portion of land, then the tax assessor can reassess that at a value outside of a farmland designation but keep the land that’s undisturbed within the farmland taxation value,” Kearns said.

Hopkinton passed its own farm viability ordinance in July 2016, allowing farmers to allocate portions of their land to solar installations, the sizes of which are based on the total acreages of the farms. The town does not charge a higher tax rate for the land used for solar, and council President Frank Landolfi said he hoped that any new legislation passed by the state legislature would not affect Hopkinton’s renewable energy tax ordinance.

“I certainly want more clarification on the farm, forests and open space,” Landolfi said. “The Senate bill we were given is kind of conflicting and I want to make sure that we have some flexibility to not tax the farmers more if they decide to go solar.”

Council member Sylvia Thompson, a proponent of the town’s farm solar ordinance, said she wanted Hopkinton’s farmers to be able to continue to generate extra income through solar development.

“If somebody is in the farm forests and open space, we don’t want them to pay more for that land under the solar if they’re a farm,” she said, “We want them to get some revenue. We don’t want to tax them anymore.”

cdrummond@ thewesterlysun.com @cynthiadrummon4

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