BURRILLVILLE – Members of the Burrillville Planning Board weighed in this week on two solar projects, passing a recommendation for a carport system proposed for Broncos Highway, and giving initial positive feedback for a second ground-mounted system in a sand pit, despite its location in a F5 zone.
The first project, which has been before planners since February, was described as a win/win for the community, with plans to hide a potential eyesore along the highway while producing renewable energy.
Hexagon Energy is on track to build a carport solar system on the same property as The Pool Pirate, producing enough energy to power 200 homes without the need to clear any vegetation. Developers aim to bring the property into compliance with the town’s zoning laws while creating a place to neatly store vehicles on the lot.
“I’m really excited about this project,” said Hexagon Development Manager Buzz Becker. “We think there are a lot of benefits.”
A former auto salvage yard, the lot also holds accessory business Northwest Trucking. The property has a propane filling station and typically, upwards of five trucks and 10 trailers are parked on the site, which under the proposal, would be stored neatly in a carport that fits up to 18 vehicles.
“Coming down 102 you won’t just see a bunch of tractor trailers,” said Planning Board Chairman Bruce Ferreira.
While the company’s proposed 750-kilowatt array would fall within current regulations for a village commercial zone, the trucking business would not, and Hexagon has applied for a change to “general commercial.”
According to plans presented by Audie Osgood of DiPrete Engineering, the carport will encompass around 1.4 acres of the 10 acre site, or 14.5 percent. The project will still need approvals from the Rhode Island Departments of Transportation and Environmental Management.
Planner unanimously voted to recommend both plan approval and the zone change, finding the project consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan.
Board members also spoke favorably about a new project that could see a five-megawatt array built on a property described as a “giant crater,” on Log Road.
Econox Renewables has preliminary plans to build a roughly five megawatt ground-mounted array on a 53.5 acre property owned by Dennis Piette.
After a tour of the area last week, planners said they were in favor of the idea.
“I felt pretty good after seeing what was there,” said Planner Michael Lupis. “I’m pretty supportive of the project after being on the site.”
Planner Ken Raspallo described the site as “ideal,” for a solar array, noting the area is marked by steep cliffs.
“It’s a perfect place for it,” Raspallo said. “I think it’s a good use of the site.”
At issue, however, is the property’s location in an F5, or open space zone, where such large-scale solar projects are not currently permitted.
Planner Christopher Desjardins asked if there were other properties in town unsuited for other uses, where despite the designation, solar might make sense.
“It comes through the Planning Board so they we can look at the individual property and make a determination,” said Ferreira. “No matter what we’re looking at it all comes down to the same thing: Does the project fit the property? That’s where we come in.”
Ferreira said in the future, he hopes to get definitions in place regarding when solar might be permissible in an F5 zone.
Planner Dov Pick said that if the project is ultimately recommended, planners should be very specific as to why.
“It’s a difficult situation with this F5 but I think I speak for everyone – it’s the ideal place on that particular piece of land that’s unable to do anything else,” said Pick.
The barren property’s relative isolation, planners noted, make a zone change for the area not the best option.
Representatives for Econox noted that they would develop a plan for safety in areas of the property with steep slopes, with mounds of sand potentially removed or leveled out.
Planning Director Raymond Goff noted that the developer would still have a long process ahead if the project were to move forward, starting with the engineering phase. The property would also need a use variance before moving on to the final planning stages.
“The sole reason for this meeting is to get a discussion on what is being proposed,” said Goff. “It’s an opportunity to share ideas.”