COVENTRY — After hearing hours of testimony for and against a proposed solar project on Lewis Farm Road Wednesday night, the Coventry Planning Commission has decided to postpone a vote until its next meeting on May 17 at 7 p.m.
Coventry Solar, LLC has proposed to build a 1 megawatt solar panel array on a 133-acre site in Greene. About 8 acres of the property would be cleared for the setup, which would include 3,000 panels spanning 4 acres of land.
According to Alan Benevides, a professional engineer, the proposed size of the array is small compared to others being constructed in and around Rhode Island, as is the wattage.
“It takes up a very small portion of the parcel,” he said. “It’s a pretty simple site.”
The land would be cleared to not only make room for the panels but to also eliminate issues of shade and trees covering the panels, which need direct contact with sunlight to generate power. The panels will be between 7 and 10 feet high with large screws bolting them 8-feet into the ground. They are cleaned with water only and require very little maintenance.
Coventry Solar also filed an application for an interconnection service agreement with National Grid who will be receiving the power generated by the panels. They will eventually be updating the nearby utility poles. The company has agreed to accept the energy generated by the site for a 20-year contract.
According to Russ Lacaillde, a Captain in the Western Coventry Fire District, there is very little data to help fire departments understand how to handle solar panel-related emergencies.
“We’re talking about copious amounts of water we’d be using, and we’re not going to be putting that on live electricity,” Lacaillde said. “These have a clean bill of health right now, but long-term we don’t know and that is a concern of ours.”
Many residents waited through several hours of applications and board matters for their chance to voice their opposition.
“I am not opposed to alternative energy,” said Donna Rustigian of Hopkins Hollow Road. “I am opposed to disrupting the rural character and the zoning ordinance. Is anyone tracking the acreage loss we’re experiencing due to renewable energy?”
“I still don’t believe these panels aren’t full of some type of toxin,” said Deb Skaling. “I don’t want to be the town Coventry’s guinea pig to see if something happens. This doesn’t belong here.”
Resident Jason Trahan pointed to a lack of data on the long-term effects of solar farms, and said he was also concerned about the lack of data on how property values would be impacted.
“Don’t gamble with our futures on a lack of data,” he said to the commission.
John Shields, a resident of Carrs Trail, where another solar farm is being proposed by Wind Energy Development, owner of the nearby turbines.
“Once it’s gone we’ll never get it back,” Shields said. “Forty years from now people won’t be saying ‘thank God the solar fields and turbines,’ I’m hoping they say ‘thank God they saved Coventry’.”
“Coventry has to look at them and see them but gets nothing from it,” said Johnna Harrington of Hopkins Hollow Road. “None of the power comes back to Greene. It doesn’t benefit the Western end of Coventry at all.”
Pam Zabel, who resides on Flat River Road, said that she couldn’t see the benefit in cutting down trees to make room for renewable energy sites.
“Trees hold carbon, and when you cut down down you release it,” she said. “I am opposed to cutting down trees in order to make solar power happen.”
“I’m not opposed to renewable energy, but I’m starting to feel cornered here,” said Flat River Road resident Jesse Thorp. “I’m starting to get concerned about electromagnetic frequencies and radiation. Has anyone considered the impact of all of this as a whole and the long-term impacts?”
“It was good for us to hear the concerns neighbors have and to be able to answer questions,” said attorney Scott Spear.
Pending the planning commission’s vote on May 17, the project will then go before the zoning board.
Follow Kendra Lolio on Twitter @kendralolio