Town looks to install solar on 16.5 acres in Commerce Park

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BURRILLVILLE – A 68-acre town-owned property inside Burrillville Commerce Park may soon be home to a 4.2 megawatt solar installation, through a project contracted by the Industrial Foundation of Burrillville currently before the Planning Board.

Engineers from Waltham, Mass.-based firm ESS Group, Inc. presented the the project to planners and residents at a public hearing on Monday, Dec. 3, noting that the plan would see 11,646 solar panels installed in a general industrial zone off Broncos Highway.

And the biggest concern expressed by abutters was not with the project itself, but with its propensity to worsen another problem: noise from a nearby manufacturing plant. The new solar system would disturb some 22 acres of currently wooded land that stands between Lynne Lane and Daniele Inc., a meat processing plant they say has been a constant nuisance.

“We are concerned about the increase in what we can see and certainly what we can hear on our properties,” said Michael Grey, a homeowner at Lynmar Estates, a high-end neighborhood just behind the proposed solar development.  “We think the mission of solar is noble. The challenge that we have is what’s behind this property.”

A draft map shows where the solar panels would be installed on the property.

Grey’s concerns were echoed by a number of his neighbors.

“It’s not your fault. It’s not your problem. But it’s brutal,” said resident Michael Cookson. “I understand you’re not making the noise, but cutting down the barrier will exacerbate it even more.”

Lynne Lane resident Robert D’Antuono said the noise from the plant, which produces charcuterie, is already “unbearable.”

“It’s worse in the winter because the foliage blocks some of the noise,” he said, repeating a request heard throughout the night by those in attendance: that the solar installation’s landscape plan include more shrubbery.

D’Antuono also expressed concerns about displacing animals with deforestation.

“We’re already seeing coyotes in the neighborhood. Some of my neighbors have lost cats,” D’Antuono said. “I’d like to preserve the woods, and that’s why I moved to Burrillville.”

Planning Board Chairman Jeffrey Partington pointed out that a solar project would be better for the residents than many alternatives.

“You could have a very noisy neighbor behind you because it is industrial land,” Partington said.

An attorney representing the solar group, Jennifer Cervenka, said that while they don’t want to cause abutters additional hardship, the company is not responsible for noise created by other neighbors.

Residents and planners listen to a presentation by Burrillville Solar, Inc.

“All we can control is the sound from our development,” said Cervenka. “We can’t control the manufacturing.”

Details of project were presented by ESS Group Senior Project Engineer Jason Gold.

“Construction will be phased so that no more than five acres will be disturbed at a time,” noted Gold, pointing to the relatively low nuisance solar arrays would have on the neighborhood. “These don’t generate any traffic. They’re visited a few times a year by a couple trucks.”

Gold noted that the solar installation would have no exterior lighting and minimal signage. A chain link fence would provide security around the ground-mounted panels, and a detailed plan would address any potential erosion on the lot, which holds three wetlands, two streams and a river.

Energy Management Inc will have a 20 year contract to lease the property, with a renewal option of five years, and a decommissioning plan would ensure site restoration as needed.

“They last forever if you keep maintaining them,” Craig Olmstead of Burrillville Solar said of the installations. Olmstead noted that the company already has a contract with National Grid for development of the community solar project.

Planner Marc Tremblay was first to side with residents. 

“There’s going to be very little screening vegetation at ground level,” Tremblay said of the solar plan. “That’s one thing that could be added to this.”

Olmstead also pointed out that the solar company could not control noise from the plant.

“I don’t know how much we can do in relation to another project,” Olmstead said. “I can’t think of a more benign use of an industrial lot.”

Olmstead said that the group hopes to launch the project in 2019, and that construction will take several months.

“These are not long projects,” he said.

Tremblay said that as a town project, the development should take extra consideration of residents.

“We need to see the landscape plan,” said Tremblay. “I think the town should somehow accommodate for residents above and beyond the expectations of this type of project. I don’t think it’s a big ask.”

Residents were asked if they have taken their complaints to the company causing the nuisance.

“I’ve sent them letters,” said Grey. “They don’t listen. They’re not interested.”

Asked about the issue, a spokesperson from Daniele Inc. told NRI NOW, “We have been a part of the Burrillville community since 1976, and cherish being here.”

“We have done everything required by the town to mute sound and lighting, which has included major investments that we have been happy to make. We do operate in an industrial park, along with several other companies, where by definition there is more activity than in a bedroom community.”

Town Planner Raymond Director Goff suggested that the solar applicant could address landscaping, as well as other issues that came up at the hearing, at a future meeting.

Board members voted unanimously to ask for a landscape plan to be presented at their next meeting.

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