Please support local news coverage –

Donate Here

Westport planners take dim view of solar plan

Soules’ Way solar developers urged to trim project to fit rules

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 9/24/20

WESTPORT — A developer’s request to stretch town guidelines for a new solar project received a cool reception from the Planning Board at the board’s September 8 meeting.

After …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Please support local news coverage –

Donate Here

Westport planners take dim view of solar plan

Soules’ Way solar developers urged to trim project to fit rules

Posted

WESTPORT — A developer’s request to stretch town guidelines for a new solar project received a cool reception from the Planning Board at the board’s September 8 meeting.

After expressing their concerns, the board voted to grant the company a continuance to the November 4 meeting.

“I would like to continue this,” board Chairman James Whitin said, “but I would like you to think long and hard about all of the comments you have received from the board and perhaps come back with a different plan that might more firmly comply with the article as it is.”

CVE North America proposes building a four-to-five megawatt solar facility containing 13,668 solar panels on a 32-plus acre property off Soules’ Way between Drift Road and Route 88. Property owners are listed as the John B. Hathaway Trust and the Westport Lot 24 Nominee Trust, and were described as being the developers of Soules’ Way.

CVE spokesman Ryan Young said the international firm specializes in renewable energy projects. The company retains ownership of the solar facilities it builds and the energy produced “would be provided on a subscription basis to residents in and around Westport.” He added that, for every panel installed, the company would contribute $1 to the community for an environmental project.

While they said that the plans include a 100-foot vegetative buffer, the developers also said that to build the project to the size they want will require several waivers from the board of the town’s solar regulations. These include:

• A reduction of setbacks on the north and south sides of the property.

• Clearing within the setback to prevent shading on some of the panels.

• Total project and cleared area in excess of what the town solar bylaw allows.

“The board has the ability to waive he setbacks but I would like to hear a good reason why we should do it,” Mr. Whitin said.

Attorney Daniel Perry said that the property owners have committed to providing a 135-foot-wide strip of conservation land along the side toward Soules’ Way — details of that commitment have not yet been worked out.

“Generally the purpose of a vegetative buffer is to mitigate the impact on abutting residential properties,” he said. “Because Lot 5 will forever remain conservation land, that will assure that the closest residential property will he approximately 300 feet away.” With that strip of conservation land, “it seemed unnecessary to provide additional vegetative buffer on that side.”

Another spokesman said that they wish for a larger project (17.1 acres of solar panels, 23 cleared acres) than the 16 acres allowed in the town’s revised solar ordinance because “it would be more beneficial in terms of production.” He added that shading issues would be “significant” without clearing.

The developers also want permission to widen the Soules’ Way right-of-way (not the road itself) to 50 feet.

Neighbor Chris Bednarz said it looks to him that clearing would go right to the property line in places. Is that true?

“We will be clearing right to the property line,” he was told, but we would be leaving stumps and ground cover in a natural state.”

“That’s not natural state when you clear cut,” Mr. Bednarz replied.

Later, Mr. Young said much of Westport was once cleared farmland, and “Experts are now coming around to realizing that there is benefit to having different habitats.”

CVE, he said, “is dedicated to providing the gold standard of pollinator habitat” in its solar projects” for insects, migrating songbirds and small mammals.

Neighbor Cindy Scheller said the property “contains a natural fresh water spring that serves as a water source for any number of animals.” The project will restrict access to that spring by those animals “other than running along Route 88.”

She also said that the clearing for this project should be considered in addition to the 14-acre solar facility “that was just constructed by CVE just south of this area … So you are now looking at well over 30 acres in this one section of town that is going to be destroyed. I think there should be some consideration for the woodlands and a limit to how much you can put in one place.”

Board members weigh in

Members of the Planning Board voiced little enthusiasm for bending the rules.

John Bullard said he is bothered by two things.

First, “You have not gotten approval from the Conservation Commission and I think that has got to happen.”

And second, why should we give a variance to the coverage requirement … The town at Town Meeting did its best in fashioning a way to regulate solar panels. … the (townspeople) have said 16 acres is what you should clear.”

He added that for the developer to respond, in effect, “‘We want more clearance than the town has voted just because we want it, because we’ll make more money’ — I don’t really buy that at all.”

“This is the first application have had under the new solar bylaw,” said Robert Daylor. “I am reluctant, for the very first project that comes to us, to allow 44 percent more clearing than is in the regulation. It says you can clear 16 acres, they propose to clear 23. The project is too big and asks for waivers that are not justified at all … This project, to get my positive vote, has a long way to go.”

“I walked it — the is a beautiful upland forest,” said Mark Schmid. “The bylaw seeks to preserve our fast-disappearing rural character and protect its scenic and environmental resources. The more of our forest we can preserve, the better.”

Manuel Soares agreed, adding that the applicant has not clearly defined wetland borders (the applicant replied that those will be provided).

“It would be my inclination not to apply any of these waivers,” Mr. Whitin said, “unless we could be clear about what’s in it for Westport. The town of Westport spoke, they approved this change to the bylaw, and I believe we should, as much as possible, stick to it.”

Mr Perry replied that the bylaw also specifically states that cleared areas “may be increased up to 50 percent provided that the board finds that the visual impact is not detrimental to the the abutters and the neighborhood.”

He added, “I think we have made it very clear that there is gong to be no visual impact on the neighborhood … This is not an extraordinary request.”

Please support your local news coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the local economy - and many of the advertisers who support our work - to a near standstill. During this unprecedented challenge, we continue to make our coronavirus coverage free to everyone at eastbayri.com - we believe it is our mission is to deliver vital information to our communities. If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please consider a tax-deductible donation. 

Donate Here

Thank you for your support!

Matt Hayes, Westport Shorelines Publisher

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.