Massive solar project passed in N.S. in 2019 with improvements to athletic facilities

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In North Smithfield, a solar project initially slated to be the largest in the state made headlines in 2019, as residents and town officials debated details on taxes and funds for decommissioning.

When NRI NOW first began covering the town in September, councilors were in the midst of hashing out plans for a solar proposal off of Iron Mine Hill Road, with questions as to how the 38-megawatt project would be taxed. The array, which at first was slated to be more than 40 megawatts, had been reduced because of a state law dictating that energy projects 40 megawatts or larger go before the state Energy Facility Siting Board for review.

At a public hearing, former Town Council President John Beauregard announced that the developer for the project, Mark DePasquale of North Kingstown-based Green Energy Development, was willing to build a bathroom and concession stand for the town’s athletic complex as part of the agreement. The improvement to town facilities would come in place of a proposed one-time payment from the developer of $195,000, and would be added to payments totaling $5.4 million over 20 years.

Initially, Councilor Douglas Osier called the unauthorized negotiation of the the deal “fishy,” and others questioned if the proposed use of the funding was in the public’s best interest.

Others pointed to the clear-cutting of some 200 acres of forested land on Whortleberry Hill required for the project, pointing to the ecological importance of the area.

The Planning Board, meanwhile, requested an emergency moratorium on commercial solar projects, noting that the town’s ordinance needed improvements as additional projects were pending.

The eight-week hold was granted, and in December, a new policy was passed, adding requirements for decommissioning and allowing the town to request that developers replace cleared trees.

The council ultimately approved the deal with DePasquale, ratifying the agreement with a 4-1 vote, with Osier casting the only dissent. The plan includes a one time payment of $287,500 with hopes that the money can be used for the long-hoped-for improvements to athletic facilities, plus $1.2 million for decommissioning.

If the bathrooms and concessions can be completed by DePasquale for less than $287,500, then the town is slated to keep any remaining funding.

The project is now in the hands of the Planning Board, and the developer must create a master plan for construction, a process expected to take several months.

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