Proposed Burrillville Zoning changes will take aim at limiting power projects

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BURRILLVILLE – After an extensive review that included input from residents as well as consultants, the Burrillville Planning Board has recommended changes to the town’s zoning ordinance that would place new limits on energy projects, particularly large-scale proposals.

The review came, in part, in reaction to the recently defeated proposal by Chicago-based Invenergy to build a 1,000 megawatt power plant in a forested area of Burrillville.

In a communication to Town Manager Michael Wood from Town Planner Raymond Goff, the board recommends changes that will affect the siting of solar energy, power plants and energy storage. The draft changes will now go before the town’s Ordinance Development Committee before they can be officially implemented by the Town Council.

“This is just getting the ball rolling,” explained Wood as councilors authorized the next stage in the process.

The board has proposed adding language to Chapter 30 of the ordinance to
prohibit electric generating facilities in all town zones.

“In order to allow Ocean State Power to continue operations in their current location and to have the ability to have limited growth in the future, it is proposed to create an overlay district,” the recommendation noted.

The proposed overlay would be limited to the prescribed parcel according to planners, and could not be changed without council approval.

The review also sought to look into the future of solar development and recommendations also include a provision for limited siting of batteries – used to store solar power during nights and times when it’s overcast.

“In the energy industry, this is a new technology that is catching on, in part due to the growth of solar,” noted the communication on the changes.

If passed, the siting of batteries in Burrillville would be limited to commercial and industrial zones.

The planning group worked with a consulted to develop the solar facilities ordinance through the month of June, with input from a resident survey regarding alternative energy as well as from the state energy office.

According to a summary of the issue, the survey showed that most residents want minimal tree clearing for solar projects, and taking that into account, the board has proposed limiting clearing of a parcel for large-scale projects to 20 percent, and limiting the amount of permitted lot coverage to 50 percent.

“The limit preserves the use of the remaining portion of the parcel for other purposes and is in keeping with some of the applications the board has seen in the past,” the letter notes.

For accessory solar – small home and business-based systems that allow residents to save money on their bills – the board recommended limits of 20 percent of the parcel, or 2,500 feet,  whichever is smaller.

The change would allow planners to use the amount of ground coverage to determine how projects are reviewed, rather than the amount of electricity generated.

The recommendations were unanimously approved by planners.

“We’re not looking to take away people’s abilities to put solar panels on their roof,” noted Councilor Donald Fox of the proposal.

Fox pointed to a project in neighboring North Smithfield that will allow a developer to clear-cut areas of forested land to build a solar installation.

“There’s this haphazard placement of these solar arrays,” Fox said. “I find it surprising so many people are in favor of clear-cutting trees for solar.”

The proposed language changes in Burrillville are now in review by the ordinance subcommittee and are expected back before the council at an upcoming meeting.

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