The Westerly Sun
WOOD RIVER JCT. — After more than a year of continuances, an application was heard for comprehensive plan and zoning changes to permit the construction of a 5-megawatt solar array on 29 acres in a residential zone at 0 Main Street.
The hearing for the project, for which the Planning Board has already issued a negative advisory opinion, took place Monday in the Chariho Middle School auditorium to accommodate the anticipated crowd.
The application from developers Atlantic Solar LLC of Providence and Atlantic Control Systems of North Kingstown was first heard in November 2018. At a meeting in Oct. 2019, the applicants surprised the council when they asked to add a fourth lot to the proposed site to increase the buffer between the project and abutters.
Attorney James Donnelly, representing the abutters, argued that the addition of a fourth lot meant that the plan was new and, therefore, should be heard as such. The council agreed to schedule a new hearing for a proposal involving the three original lots, for Monday.
Robert Craven, the attorney representing the applicants, introduced project engineer Alan Benevides, who explained that several additional changes had been made to the project plans.
Those panels that had been intended for the fourth parcel have been removed. More trees will be cleared, leaving about 15 percent of the trees on the property standing.
Project builder Frank Epps explained that the inverter had also been reconfigured. The inverter converts the energy produced by the solar panels into usable electrical power that can be fed into the power grid.
“The reason why it was reduced in size is that we switched over to what they call string inverters, and these string inverters are now located on the rack of the panels,” he said.
An access road would also be built farther away from abutting homes and wetlands.
Town Council president Frank Landolfi said he wanted to walk the site.
“I want to do a site walk,” he said. “I want to see where the abutters are in reference to the array.”
Epps said he could schedule a site walk for Saturday morning.
Landolfi also asked about a Jan. 22 meeting that took place between James Grundy, the owner of the property, and abutters. Several abutters did not receive their written notices of the meeting until it was too late for them to attend.
Grundy said he would be willing to hold a second meeting if the neighbors asked for one.
“I’m willing to sit with any of the neighbors no matter what happens,” he said. “No matter what happens, be it a solar array or anything else, we’re going to be investing in this property for at least 25 to 30 years.”
Jon Closterman and his daughter, Sarah, live at 600 Main Street, next to the property in question. Closterman said he had gone to the meeting with Grundy, who had told the handful of neighbors in attendance that if he could not build a solar army on his property, he would replace it with a 64-unit affordable housing complex.
Closterman told the council that he and his neighbors remained opposed to the construction of commercial solar projects in residential zones.
“Right from the beginning, we’ve been against this change of zoning that doesn’t go along with the comprehensive plan of this town,” he said.
Richard Lavoie, who owns a home at 552 Main Street that abuts the southern end of the site, said he didn’t like either the solar or the housing option.
“I’m on the fence on this for two reasons,” he said. “Both reasons suck, actually. I don’t like solar. I don’t like to have houses. If we do have solar, we’re going to have an echo chamber coming right up to the Town Hall on that [Interstate 95] corridor. I don’t like the idea of developing it, bringing in more homes. We’re going to end up with more kids, more schools, more police department, more of everything else, and it’s going to bring up our taxes.”
With the developers’ presentation and public comments concluded, the council closed the hearing will render its decision at the Mar. 2 council meeting.