Board says solar at White Oak Farm a viable solution

Board says solar at White Oak Farm a viable solution

Paul Phillips and his daughter, Shelby, want to continue the family tradition of farming at White Oak Farm in Glocester, and are requesting a special use permit from the Planning Board to build a 6.01-acre, 1.9-megawatt solar array on the farm. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

GLOCESTER – Members of the Glocester Planning Board say plans to develop a 1.9-megawatt solar farm at White Oak Farm is a “viable situation,” but have still requested a site visit before making any decisions.

The Planning Board delayed a decision until the next meeting on Sept. 9 and scheduled a site visit to the 78-acre farm located off White Oak Road.

Members of the public may attend the Aug. 24 site visit at 9 a.m. The farm itself is in Glocester, but the address is 74 White Oak Lane, North Scituate.

Kevin Morin, of Green Development, said the six-acre solar array, which will featuretwo pads of ground-mounted solar panels, is designed to not interfere with existing fields or wetlands.

Developers are requesting multiple setback variances from the Zoning Board, Morin said. The development will need two roadway setbacks for a special use permit on the site. Glocester solar ordinance requires a 500-foot setback from a roadway, and 300-foot setback from property lines.

Developers are seeking an 84-foot variance from Appleton Road in Glocester and a 344.5-foot variance from the White Oak Farm driveway.

Also, developers are seeking a 118-foot variance from a property line to Glocester conservation land and a 182.5-foot variance from a home on the property belonging to a family member who supports the development.

Planning Board member George Charette said he would not make a decision either way until he sees a good reason to go against the setbacks outlined in the solar ordinance firsthand.

“Due to the ordinance, I’m requesting the Planning Board that they do a site visit to physically see the justifiable value of going against the ordinance,” Charette said.

During the Aug. 19 Planning Board meeting, Green Development presented a plan that would lease the property from the landowners, Roger, Patricia and Paul Phillips.

Phillips and his daughter, Shelby, spoke during the evening, with the father explaining why he decided to go solar on his farm. He said many of his neighbors were in attendance at the meeting and he wanted to clarify what he was doing.

“We want to continue farming. Shelby’s the fifth generation in the house. She wants to continue tradition,” he said.

“We have to do this because we want to take the farm to a different level,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he will continue to farm on his property. The lease agreement will serve as an agreement in case his crops, which include corn, peaches, blueberries and raspberries, are not successful.

“A long-term plan for us is to keep on farming. I’m going to put fields wherever I can find space,” Phillips said.

Morin said the five-year farm plan includes additional fields for his crops. Moris said plans were rearranged to work around the peach orchard to the west of the northern array and blueberries to the east of the house.

In total, 6.9 acres, or 12.3 percent of the total acreage, or less than the 30 percent allowed by ordinance, will be cleared for the project.

Abutters remained skeptical about the development and expressed concerns that the array will be an eyesore.

Ken Burnett, of Appleton Lane, said he would not have bought his home had he known the view from his deck would be a solar array.

“When I look out the back of my property, I want to see trees. That’s why I chose to live in that subdivision,” Burnett said.

Another benefit to the location is that the solar array will be able to interconnect with National Grid without the addition of poles on the property, Morin said. In all, the project will take approximately two months to complete.

In exchange for leasing the land on White Oak Farm, Green Development will pay a tax of $5,000 per megawatt to the town each year, or approximately $9,000. Over the 25-year lease, the town will receive more than $225,000 in taxes, Morin said.

Hannah Morini, of Green Development, said putting up a solar project will protect the rural character of the town for future generations.

“The landowner is coming before you with a plan that’s going to help supplement his income and will help keep the agriculture in place,” Morini said.