NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Town Council has placed a roughly seven-week emergency moratorium on commercial solar projects, noting the hold on accepting new applications could be extended if the Planning Board needs more time to work out issues with the town’s ordinance.
The board took up the topic at recommendation of planners, who noted they hope to address concerns regarding the future siting of commercial solar arrays in town.
On Monday, Planning Board Chairman Gary Palardy described the potential changes as “tweaks and refinement,” but noted that the move was nonetheless needed before developers submit additional projects.
“I think it’s important that we get this through,” Palardy told councilors.
Councilor Douglas Osier sponsored the move, requested unanimously by planners in early September.
“I’ve said all along, I think we need to slow down,” said Osier. “I think we should put the brakes on. I think, at this point, it would be foolish of us not to pass this.”
The “emergency” nature of the moratorium, passed by councilors in a 5-0 vote, allows it to take effect immediately, but is not expected to affect applications that are already pending.
Council President Paul Vadenais questioned if the moratorium was needed, before ultimately siding with planners requesting the break.
“I think our ordinance is pretty good,” Vadenais noted. “It’s pretty complete.”
Vadenais noted that unlike other towns that have grappled with a large number of projects, North Smithfield has received just seven commercial solar applications in 18 months.
Palardy agreed that the town’s current ordinance is strong, but noted that the board needs time to adjust it with public input before more plans come down the pike, noting that there are currently 4 or 5 projects in various stages of the process.
“You’re right we may not be getting ten projects in a month but we have others on the table,” Palardy said.
Planners have said amendments could target protection of forested land and the rural nature of the town.
Town Administrator Gary Ezovski said that he would have preferred if planners made their recommendations for ordinance changes without requesting the ban.
“My preference would be that we not do a moratorium,” Ezovski said.
Nicholas Goodier, at attorney representing Green Energy Development, the North Kingston-based company that currently has a roughly 38-megawatt project planned for Iron Mine Hill Road, spoke against the moratorium.
“I’m pretty sure everyone’s confused in here as to what this council’s trying to do,” said Goodier. “You’re frustrating the process by doing this. The town administrator knows it.”
Speaking later to NRI NOW, Osier defended the emergency move.
“We may have great ordinance, but situations have come up where there needs to be revisions, and it doesn’t make sense to make them while we continue accepting applications. It allows us to slow down. All it takes one bad application for us to regret not taking action.”
The more permanent changes to how the town handles ground mounted commercial scale solar arrays will require a public hearing and approval by the council. Planners now have several weeks to recommend amendments, which would need to be passed before the moratorium runs out on Monday, Dec. 2.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the ban was passed by a 3-2 vote. We apologize for the error.