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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Cool to giant solar project

By GRACE KELLY/ecoRI News staff

The entire proposal has no provision for open space and would cover most of the property.
The development proposal would take a 252-acre parcel on Palmer Circle in Hopkinton, R.I., and transform some 148 acres into a solar facility with five 2-story buildings.
HOPKINTON, R.I. — The temperature inside Town Hall on a recent Wednesday night was stifling. People wedged themselves onto long, wooden benches, eager to listen to and comment on the pre-approval stage of a proposed solar facility by RI-95 LLC, a Warwick-based developer.

“I’m Walter Manning, principal of the company, and I was born and raised in southern Rhode Island,” he said at the Feb. 5 Planning Board meeting.

Manning was joined by Sergio Cherenzia, project engineer, and Kevin Orchid, a solar-panel specialist.

The proposal, called “Stone Ridge at Hopkinton,” would take a 252-acre parcel on Palmer Circle and transform some 148 acres into a solar facility with five 2-story buildings. 

The proposed solar installation would be one of the largest in the state, if not New England. 

The entire proposal has no provision for open space and would cover most of the property.

When asked by Planning Board member Carolyn Light what they were planning to put into the buildings on the property, Cherenzia said, “We haven’t defined specifically what they would be used for.”

But the rest of the property would definitively be used for a utility-scale solar installation.

Cherenzia noted that parcel, which is almost entirely wooded, isn’t within any natural heritage area, scenic road corridor, or state-designated scenic area.

The tree-covered and stone-walled lined land was bought by RI-95 LLC last spring from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe for $750,000. Company officials have argued that since the property is zoned special commercial, this means it allows for solar development.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I support commercial solar projects as a necessary part of the move away from fossil fuels. However, large solar projects that involve clearing woodlands are a poor way to go especially when we have so many abandoned or dormant quarry sites in South County. Those sites are wastelands - quarry owners are not legally required to reclaim the land. Better to use those lands than clear-cut forests.  - Will Collette

But a majority of the five-member Planning Board, as well as most of the residents at the recent meeting, begged to differ, citing the rezoning of the property in 1990 from residential to commercial special, which was originally done to permit the building of a golf course and hotel that never materialized, as not considering solar as the part of the equation.

“Clearly, at that time the vocabulary that they’re using today was not even contemplated,” Planning Board chairman Alfred DiOrio said. 

“So, to automatically jump to the idea that solar is allowed here is not really acceptable to me. I’m not prepared to accept that just yet. We need to go back to what the Town Council and the Planning Board approved, back when this was resolved. It does not include solar.”

For concerned residents, the idea of cutting down trees to make way for fields of ground-mounted solar arrays tears at the heart of what makes Hopkinton a retreat from the densely populated and congested Rhode Island.

“I moved to Hopkinton to get away from Route 2 in Warwick; I moved here for green space and community,” said Peter Conopask, a resident and member of the Planning Board from 1979-81. “I didn’t move here for this. The rules can’t change for a few specific people.”

Town planner James Lamphere suggested that the Planning Board ask town solicitor Kevin McAllister to look into the original zoning change and what the intent of the Town Council was at the time.