EXETER – A Rhode Island renewable energy developer, Green Development, announced last week its intent to bring a $200 million lawsuit against the Town of Exeter, while also holding elected officials, planning board members and staff personally accountable for their actions as parties to the suit. Green Development’s announcement alleges that the town and various officials “unfairly deprived and interfered” with the company’s ability to operate and develop renewable projects.
The lawsuit comes after a tumultuous period in Exeter, which saw a solar ordinance written by Green Development first enacted in 2018, and then eventually replaced with a new ordinance the following year by a newly elected town council. During the process, a 60-day emergency moratorium was also put on the review of submissions for ground-mounted solar installation, including applications submitted by Green Development, in order to prevent the threat of excessive development from commercial, utility-scale installations.
Before the moratorium was enacted, Green Development had several pending applications for solar development in specific areas in Exeter.
Now, Green Development is claiming that the town council “did not possess authority to enact the moratorium as an ‘emergency ordinance,’” adding that the moratorium constituted an “illegal infringement upon [Green Development’s] rights.”
“The town council’s conduct and actions are prejudicial and go beyond the appearance of impropriety,” a letter to the town from Green Development reads. “The council’s actions give rise to causes of actions which can proceed and can be prosecuted in court for breach of substantive and procedural process rights as well as violations of equal protection.”
The letter goes on to say that the “deprivation, denials and interference evidence a well-conceived and pernicious pattern, practice, design and policy on the part of the town directed specifically toward Green Development.”
“All told, [Green Development’s] damages from the aforesaid acts and omissions total in the aggregate approximately $200 million,” the letter states.
Bill Fischer, a spokesperson for Green Development, called the process “long and tortured,” adding that millions of dollars had already been expended in Exeter and Coventry.
“There has been a long and tortured path to get to this point and unfortunately we have no other recourse, but to file this action. The actions of various town officials, who have acted outside of their purviews and contrary to town ordinances and due process in many instances have unfairly deprived and interfered with Green’s ability to operate and develop renewable projects. Green has expended millions of dollars in Coventry and Exeter and the actions of certain individuals have unnecessarily brought projects to a standstill,” Fischer said.
Green Development is also intending to file an $85 million lawsuit against Coventry for similar alleged damages.
“Every municipal elected official in Rhode Island should look at Exeter and Coventry as a case study in how not to approach the citing and development of renewable energy projects and we intend to prove this in a court of law,” he added. “Unfortunately, what has ruled the day in both of these towns is obstructionism motivated by nimbyism.”
The intended suit will also assert that certain town individuals have not only deprived Green Development of their rights in Exeter, but have also interfered with the company’s interests in other Rhode Island communities.
Individuals being notified by Green Development for alleged deprivation and interference include every member of the town council and planning board, as well as the town clerk, planner and treasurer.
Town solicitor James Marusak said that the town was aware of Green Development’s intention to bring the lawsuit, which he said was referred to the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust. Members of the Exeter Town Council declined to comment on the lawsuit, due to potential litigation.
Last year, Green Development also filed a challenge with the Rhode Island Superior Court regarding Exeter’s implementation of the emergency moratorium, arguing that the moratorium negatively impacted the status of three of its applications for solar development that were under review by the planning department.
However, the superior court judge eventually ruled against Green Development’s challenge, stating that the town’s moratorium fit “nicely within the parameters of state law, which sets strict deadlines for the processing of master plan developments by local planning offices,” adding that Green Development’s applications had not been certified as complete before the moratorium was enacted.
“A town has a legitimate interest in preventing overdevelopment and ensuring compliance with the comprehensive plan as it relates to the general welfare of its residents,” the judge stated last March. “The town did not enact the moratorium ordinance for the direct purpose of preventing [Green Development’s] project.”