standing Hopkinton Town Hall

HOPKINTON — Members of the Town Council agreed at their remotely held July 6 meeting to issue a request for proposals to develop a former town landfill into a solar energy facility.

Located at 0 Stubtown Road, the newer of two decommissioned landfills occupies a 52-acre property, of which about one half would be occupied by solar panels. The landfill was closed in the 1990s.

Town Planner James Lamphere told the council that the agenda item had been prompted by a discussion he had on June 22 with Mark Dennen of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and Christopher Kearns of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources.

“During that conversation, it was suggested by the Office of Energy Resources that in an effort to facilitate the development of that landfill site for a solar array, that what we should do is, as soon as possible, send out an RFP and enter into some sort of relationship with a solar developer,” he said.

In a private interview the day after the council meeting, Lamphere said that because the site is a former landfill, it requires maintenance, some of it costly. Revenue from a solar facility would cover those expenses, which are borne by the town.

“The town needs to generate revenue in order to maintain the site going forward,” he said. “In addition to that, we need to create a revenue generator out there so that we can properly manage our closed landfill.”

The idea is one that Hopkinton officials have considered for several years, and one which residents, many of whom oppose solar facilities in wooded areas, support.

Lamphere said that after speaking with state officials, he believed it was time to start the project, which would also involve taking additional measures to complete the closing and sealing of the landfill.

By developing the newer of the two closed landfills, known in the town as Phase II, Lamphere said there would also be revenue to cover the cost of closing the older landfill, or Phase I, which the town stopped using in the 1980s.

“I think what we need to do as a town is get a solar array in place which will serve to generate revenue with which we can maintain compliance on that cap and probably accumulate some funds which will enable us to deal with the Phase I landfill, which is out there and still has never been closed out, ever,” he said.

All five council members said they supported the concept of putting an array on the former landfill.

Town Manager William McGarry reminded the council that the town would have to approve a zone change from residential/farming to commercial or commercial special and that the proposal, even coming from the town, will have to go through the usual approval processes with the Planning Board and the council.

“It would have to go to the Planning Board and all the other specific aspects would apply, and then it would have to go from the Planning Board over to the Town Council,” he said. “In the long run, I fully support it."

Council members voted unanimously to support a motion authorizing the town to issue a request for proposals to lease the parcel to one or more private solar developers who would design and build a solar energy facility on the former landfill.

Solar hearing postponed

In other business, council members reluctantly granted a request from attorney Steven Surdut to postpone a public hearing on a commercial solar energy facility at 10-A Crandall Lane.

Centrica Business Solutions and property owner Maitland Fothergill have requested zoning and comprehensive plan amendments in order to build a large commercial solar array in a residential neighborhood. The application, first received in January 2019, has dragged on, and several councilors said they were opposed to allowing another postponement.

“I’m not willing to do that, and I’d like the lawyer to know that this is it,” councilor Sylvia Thompson said. “There’s no more extensions.”

Councilor Barbara Capalbo wanted to explore the possibility of having a socially-distanced, in-person meeting at a larger venue, such as the Chariho Middle school auditorium, but there were questions about the safety of such a meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether the Chariho School District would allow the auditorium to be used for such a purpose.

The council voted to approve a motion to reschedule the public hearing for Aug. 17.

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