N.S. solar project moving forward with sports bathrooms, concessions in the works

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BURRILLVILLE – A plan to use the one-time payment from Green Energy Development’s solar project off Iron Mine Hill Road to build bathrooms and concession stands for the school district’s athletic fields remains on track, with money to be set aside for the work, according to a draft agreement approved Monday by the North Smithfield Town Council.

The board passed draft deals for the project pending final review and language changes by Solicitor David Igliozzi, an approval for the project solid enough for applicant Mark DePasquale to begin the planning process, working out further details the town’s Planning Board.

According to the agreement, the developer will make a one-time payment of $287,500, to be placed in a special town-held account.

Details of how that money is spent will need to be hashed out, and permits obtained, but as the council granted approvals to the draft agreements this week, the long hoped for improvements to school infrastructure were frequently cited.

“Do you know how many fundraisers we’d have to do to do that?” asked Councilor Claire O’Hara of money to construct bathrooms and concessions by the fields.

DePasquale has said he may be able to complete the work for far less than the cost of a municipal project.

“At last we will have a field that doesn’t need an upgrade,” said O’Hara. “You won’t have to worry about someone going underneath the bleachers anymore.”

While the idea is still in the preliminary stages, both residents and town officials have expressed support for the proposal. The plan was first announced by former Town Council President John Beauregard, who said he brought the idea to the developer, at a public hearing last month.

And according to the draft development agreement passed on Monday, the $287,500 will be paid to the town immediately after permits for DePasquale’s solar permits are issued. If the bathrooms and concessions are not built – for any reason – the town will keep the full cash payment.

“We’re hoping this comes to fruition,” Councilor Paul Zwolenski said of the work.  

Igliozzi explained that the funding will belong to the town regardless of the outcome.

“Final approval won’t be issued until payment is issued to the town,” he said.

The one-time development fee was among several elements of the deal – technically comprised of nine separate smaller arrays in the forested lots known as Whortleberry Hill – that were voted on this week. The council also voted on a tax stabilization agreement and plan for decommissioning of the solar arrays, with a ten-year contract and option to renew the deal for an additional ten years. 

Some 60 percent of area will remain farmland under the development plan, with the town to be paid the state-mandated $5 per kilowatt for the solar energy, plus an additional $2 per kilowatt agreed to by the developer.

The arrangement reportedly will amount to close to $5.4 million in payments to the town over the next 20 years.

Agreements for the 38.4 megawatt project are expected to come back before the council for final approval at their next meeting in two weeks.

Resident Mike Davis pointed out that in a separate agenda item scheduled for executive session Monday, the council was slated to discuss potential litigation with the same company.

“It’s a little concerning you guys are working on a tax stabilization agreement while there’s active litigation,” said Davis.

Zwolenski and Councilor Douglas Osier, meanwhile, expressed concerns with the decommissioning plan, ultimately dissenting on the development agreement as a result.

“To me, the decommissioning is probably the most important part,” said Osier. “We need to make sure the town is protected. You don’t know what the long-term effects of these are.”

Under advisement of Stephen Bursini, an attorney working for the developer, $1.2 million in funds will be set aside for the task, with $600,000 in a surety bond specially designed for solar decommissioning.

“The industry is advancing and making products that are more responsive to, I think, town’s concerns,” said Bursini of the bond.

“I still think that’s too low,” said Osier of the figures. “We don’t know what the future cost is.”

Plus, he noted, “If something happens to the bond company, you don’t know what’s going to happen 30 years from now.”

“I’m not comfortable with bonds at all,” agreed Zwolenski.

Councilor Terri Bartomioli noted that the responsibility should not fall to the town regardless of any changes in the upcoming decades.

While Osier was the only dissenting vote on tax stabilization agreement, Zwolenski joined him in a second vote regarding the development plan.

But even the councilor least in favor of the deal indicated general support of the plan to build bathrooms for fans and athletes.

“I support that effort in terms of those facilities do need to be upgraded,” said Osier.

“It’s building facilities,” noted Council President Paul Vadenais.

The amended tax treaties and development plans are expected to be posted on the town website later this week.

And although the approval is subject to final review, the project will now go before the Planning Board.

“That planning process is going to take months,” said Igliozzi.

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