Developer of large-scale N.S. solar project to sue Coventry, Exeter for $285 million

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – A company that has begun clear-cutting trees to make weigh for a 38.4 megawatt solar array on Iron Mine Hill Road announced plans this week to sue the towns of Coventry and Exeter for denying similar renewable energy projects.

According to reports, North Kingstown-based Green Development LLC will sue the Rhode Island towns for a total of about $285 million, saying the company was illegally deprived of its rights in previously rejected solar proposals.

Each elected official and town officer in Coventry and Exeter is expected to be served a letter notifying them of the company’s intent to file the federal and state claims, providing a 40-day warning period as required by court.

The news comes as Green Energy founder Mark DePasquale prepares for final appearances before the North Smithfield Planning Board. That project, which is now master planning stage, is expected to bring in some $5.4 million in tax payments over the next 20 years, according to an agreement ratified by the North Smithfield Town Council in November.

The deal may also include construction of bathrooms and concession stands at the North Smithfield High School athletic fields in lieu of a one-time payment to the town of $287,500. DePasquale has stated that he may be able to complete the long hoped for project for far less than it would otherwise cost the municipality.

Details of that element of the project are still in the planning stages, with funding set aside in a special town-held account.

The latest hearing for the project is scheduled to be held on Thursday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. in the North Smithfield Middle School cafeteria.

Preparation work on the forested 400-acre lot known as Whortleberry Hill, however, has already begun. According to reports this week, Green Energy began clearing land and surveying the site for ledge and soil content on the northwest portion of the property.

The project will nearly double DePasquale’s renewable energy holdings in the state.

In Coventry, meanwhile, the company is seeking about $85 million in damages, with another roughly $200 million sought from the town of Exeter. Company officials say that Green expended millions of dollars on renewable projects before proposals there were denied, with officials acting outside of their purview and contrary to town ordinances.

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