Planning Board: Buxton Street solar farm doesn’t meet ordinance

Planning Board: Buxton Street solar farm doesn’t meet ordinance

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A solar project proposed off Buxton Street got a cool reception last week from Planning Board members who raised concerns it didn’t comply with the town’s newly-adopted solar ordinance.

Buzz Becker, a representative of Virginia-based Hexagon Energy, told board members during a virtual meeting April 30, the one-megawatt DC array would be constructed on land owned by Theresa Hill north of Buxton Street near the Massachusetts state line. As part of the project, the company plans to divide a 20-acre parcel into two lots, a six-acre lot for a residential home and a separate, 14-acre lot for the solar farm.

Board members praised the location of the proposed farm on an area of scrubland that had previously been cleared. They also expressed support for the company’s plan to enroll the project in National Grid’s community solar program that allows town residents to sign up for discounts on their electricity.

However, several members said they could not support the project because it does not comply with the town’s new solar zoning ordinance, which was only approved last fall. The proposed lot would have only 130 feet of frontage on Buxton Street, and the ordinance requires 200.

Member Jeffrey Porter warned approving the project would set a precedent for other companies.

“If we start allowing variances right off the bat for our new solar ordinance, we’ll be shooting ourselves in the foot for all the work that we did,” he said.

The board was more receptive to a second project proposed on property owned by the Holliston Sand Company, though that project, too, drew some questions. The 1.44-megawatt DC array would be installed by Rhode Island-based Energy Development Partners on the western portion of the company’s property near Slatersville Reservoir.

John Pagliarini, an attorney for the company, said the project would use net metering to offset Holliston Sand’s electric use. The company, he explained, is a heavy electricity user, with bills in the hundreds of thousands every year.

“The hope is that 80 percent of their electrical cost will be reimbursed by the solar usage,” he said.

The property has a long history of legal battles over access going back to 1965, when a judge ordered the company to replace a trestle bridge across Slatersville Reservoir. At the time, a former railroad bed formed a right-of-way across the company’s property to Route 102, and the bridge was seen as an alternate route to avoid sending trucks by Tifft Road.

Pagliarini said the company has since spent $1 million to create an alternate trucking route to Douglas Pike, removing the need for the trestle bridge, but board member David Punchak said employee traffic remains an issue on Tifft Road. With the solar panels expected to cross the right-of-way, members considered having the company move the project or create another route to preserve the possibility of accessing Route 102 in the future.

Since neither project required a vote at this stage in their applications, members opted to leave the question to Town Solicitor David Igliozzi and Town Planner Tom Kravitz to resolve.

Both projects would have to return before the Planning Board before receiving approval.

Comments

With so much concern to avoid cutting forested areas for solar and since this area is described as scrubland, the Planning Board could send a positive recommendation to the zoning board of review to grant a variance on frontage.
The Planning Board can grant a waiver but not a variance.
The town solicitor, Mr. Igliozzi, has made it very clear in the past that every application is unique and stands on its own merits.
The fear of setting a precedent is unfounded.

L. Benoit
North Smithfield