Smithfield Planning Board to hear solar project proposal

Smithfield Planning Board to hear solar project proposal

Centered in the 149-acre Log Road Solar property in Smithfield is the 21.5 acre solar system plot. Abutting neighbors to the north should not be able to see the system, according to Town Planner Michael Phillips. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – A proposal 21.5-acre ground-mounted solar-energy system, located at 512 Log Road and proposed by ISM Solar Development will be heard at the Planning Board meeting Thursday evening, May 17, at 7 p.m.

DiPrete Engineering prepared the Log Road Solar project’s master plan, and will be seeking the Planning Board’s recommendation to the Zoning Board, which would need to issue a special use permit for the project.

The prepared narrative for the scope of the project describes the lot as 149 acres consisting of wooded areas, wetlands, a gravel area and a pond bisecting the site. Though the project would use 21.5 acres, the solar system itself would cover approximately 17.4 acres.

“The enclosed system area is currently occupied by grass, trees, and low-lying vegetation,” the report states. “The proposed location of the facility has been selected to ensure sufficient setback and screening to provide visual buffer and screening from surrounding lots, and not adversely affect the scenic or natural beauty of surrounding areas.”

ISM Solar Development proposes to build a 6.2-megawatt solar energy project on the property, including 70 rows of ground-mounted solar arrays spaced 10.5 feet apart, two transformers, electrical equipment, and infrastructure to connect with National Grid. Connection to National Grid would require installing several poles to connect to the nearest substation.

The nearest abutters to the solar operation are at the south side of Log Road, with the lot zoned as R-200, residential conservation, surrounding lots are also zoned as residential.

Town Planner Michael Phillips said the town’s comprehensive plan encourages new solar projects where it does not involve cutting down too many trees.

“I’m sure the Planning Board is going to look at that based on what the comprehensive plan said and what the ordinance said,” he said.

The Log Road project is one of numerous solar projects being proposed or developed in northern Rhode Island, a trend that seems to be polarizing environmentalists, who often advocate for alternative energy production but aren’t happy about wooded areas being destroyed to do it.

Phillips, who recently installed a solar power system on top of his home garage, called the Log Road neighborhood “sparsely settled,” and said there will be little to no visibility to the project.

“There’s some good things about this project that it’s out in the woods and basically nobody’s going to see it, for the most part,” he said.

While looking at the master plan, the Planning Board would take into consideration the new zoning ordinance, passed by the Town Council last week, but the project is exempt from the ordinance as the plan was submitted prior to the ordinance’s passing, according to Phillips.

The new ordinance would allow a large-scale project similar to Log Road under special use permit.

“There are limits on the amount of clearing you can do of forested land, 40 percent of the total lot to be cleared. There are limits on the amount of lot coverage you can have,” he said. “If they had to comply with the ordinance, they probably would meet it as far as the 40 percent clearing.”

No new buildings or lighting are required for the project, and it does not require water or sewer services.

Thursday night’s Planning Board meeting will be held at the Smithfield Town Hall, 64 Farnum Pike.