Warren increases size limit on solar farms

Ordinance change clears way for Windmill Hill solar farm proposal

By Ted Hayes
Posted 12/20/19

A renewable energy firm is moving ahead with plans to build a large solar farm on the site of the Windmill Hill Golf Course, after the Warren Town Council earlier this month approved a crucial …

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Warren increases size limit on solar farms

Ordinance change clears way for Windmill Hill solar farm proposal

Posted

A renewable energy firm is moving ahead with plans to build a large solar farm on the site of the Windmill Hill Golf Course, after the Warren Town Council earlier this month approved a crucial ordinance change that increases the size of solar farms allowed here in town.

TurningPoint Energy first floated the idea of purchasing the par-three, nine-hole golf course on Schoolhouse Road earlier this year, but representatives at the time said that the town’s limit on size, previously capped at five megawatts of power, would make the project undoable financially — and asked that the town up the capacity on its ordinance.

Earlier this month, the Warren Town Council agreed, passing unanimously an ordinance change that increases the size allowed in town to eight megawatts of AC power. The council’s vote came after a recommendation to do so by the Warren Planning Board, which met on the issue in late November.

“We are encouraged to see the town council change the size of solar projects allowed,” said Michelle Carpenter, the managing director of development at TurningPoint.

“Provided all goes well, we plan to bring the project to the planning board in the new year.”

TurningPoint has been in talks with Windmill Hill ownership to purchase the 46-acre property for some time, and hopes to build a 7-megawatt power station on the site.

If built, the project would be nearly 50 percent larger than the 4.6-megawatt project at Black Horse Farms in Touisset, the first solar farm approved by the town several years ago.

Under the town’s zoning ordinance, TurningPoint would have to obtain a special use permit to build the facility, as though solar farms are permitted in R40, B, M, CI and FC zones, special use permits are required.

At the December council meeting, councilors put several other changes to the ordinance on the table, requiring that vegetative barriers around sites be increased to eight feet in height, from a previous minimum of six. Councilors also approved another change sought in the planning board recommendation; that solar farm developers include an emergency contact name with quarterly tax payments.

At the town council meeting, resident Andre Asselin expressed his concern that putting in a large solar array would make the land beneath it “unviable” over the life of the project.

“I have panels on my roof; I think they’re great,” he said. But “my concern is when they’re going on arable land. If it’s not going to have any effect on the land, let (developers) put up a performance bond” that requires them to restore the land upon the future closure of the facility.

“Because otherwise, this land is going to end up like the Sahara desert and it’s not going to be usable for anything.”

Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto responded that there is already language in ordinances requiring developers to revegetate land after the conclusion of operations at farms, “so that it doesn’t become a blight.”

Ms. Carpenter said TurningPoint is currently working through the utility interconnection process with National Grid and, when that’s done, will formally approach the town with requests for the needed approvals.

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