Back taxes expected from N.S. solar substation, live since 2021 with no permit or inspection

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – North Smithfield may be due a large payment in back taxes on an electric substation connecting the state’s largest solar farm to National Grid, which reportedly went live last year without following the town’s permitting or inspection process.

Green Development built the substation to connect its 38.4-megawatt solar farm on Iron Mine Hill Road to the larger electric grid. The array went live in December of 2021, but Town Councilor John Beauregard pointed out this week that the town has received no corresponding windfall from the tangible assets, turned over to the power company by Green.

“I haven’t seen any money on our tax rolls,” Beauregard said at the council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3. “It would have been nice to know that was there during the budget.”

Tax Assessor Jennifer St. George said the substation wasn’t taxed because Green officials never took out a permit to build the substation, which would have triggered notification in the assessment office.

“They’re responsible and they should have notified me,” St. George said.

While the cost to build the substation is not yet known, St. George confirmed that the asset will be taxed for two years at the tangible rate, which was 43.69 per thousand when it went live in 2021, once a consultant can determine its value.

Finance Director Cynthia DeJesus said that it also appears that the project never received an inspection from the fire marshal.

“There’s an array of issues here right now,” DeJesus said, noting that filing for the permit triggers other steps in the process. “There’s a process that goes through the e-permitting system. It would have fell through the cracks.”

While Beauregard stated that the substation could be worth millions, St. George declined to estimate how much might be due. Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski noted that residential building permits are calculated in part by the cost of materials.

“This is why we need the experts to come in,” Zwolenski said. “The disheartening thing is no permit was pulled. so now late permitting fees will be applied.”

Councilors noted that Green Development, owner of the massive solar array, should have notified the town at the start of the process. And the energy company should have paid on the taxable asset.

“That section of land and the substation was deeded over to National Grid,” said St. George.

“We have two culprits,” Hamilton said.

St. George said she has plans to visit the new substation this week with a consultant to begin the assessment process.

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33 COMMENTS

  1. An update for those awaiting more information on this issue: NRI NOW asked Tax Assessor Jennifer St. George last week if she’d had a chance to visit the new substation with a consultant to help determine its value, as discussed. After receiving no response, we sent a second inquiry, and St. George responded that she is, “not at liberty to discuss at this time.”
    In the meantime, we’ve heard that Green applied for permits as part of the original solar project – and that the tax office is not at all certain if the town has or has not been receiving tax payments on it. We know that a subcontractor on behalf of National Grid completed construction and that the power company now owns the substation. No one has responded to requests for information on the estimated value of it as a tangible asset.
    Due to the obscure and possibly complex nature of the issue – and lack of ability to obtain concrete information – we plan to provide an update after the issue is again presented to the Town Council at a date tbd.

  2. After reading all of the comments I am getting a sense that North Smithfield residents are having a great deal of issues with the electric company. I am also noticing that our political leaders are not advocating with the PUC or the electric company to upgrade of network, trim tress, and assure quality service. The residents of North Smithfield pay the same rates as everyone in the state and North Smithfield has the greatest number of outages. It also appears that Gary’s comments about the electric company and the work he has done really has not made any impact. What North Smithfield really need is an advocate in our Government to tackle the issue. Maybe Brian Newberry could help us as our Town Council and Town Administrator have been non existent and ineffective.

  3. ….it seems National Grid, now R I Energy, did/does not change out the electric meters on the outside of homes with new technology, but rather leaves the antiquated ones up forever. My parent now has a new digital meter thanks to inspection of their home. My company in my state, changes out our meter boxes every time there is an improved kind, we now have the Smart one. That was a few yrs ago! Our whole state co-op grid has been changed! So it would be interesting to know what RI plans to do, esp since rates going up, and to minimize problems.

  4. After reading all the post from Gary and Dave, I would have to say that Gary actually believes he did a good job when in fact he accomplished very little. As someone who has lived in North Smithfield for over 40 years, electricity has been an issue. Back a number of years ago Kenneth Bianchi. the then town administrator, took National Grid to task and forced the company to do some major tree cutting which help the outage issue for a number of years. But neglect by future Town Administrators, including Gary, and National Grid, North Smithfield again began having frequent power outages. What Gary fails to mention is he made sure his home was restored quickly and then, “as Gary states”, worked with National Grid to restore the remaining households. What this means was restore the rest of the state then NS for what Gary felt was a favor or protecting the tax payments made to the town by National Grid. What Gary was unaware of is that every RI town taxes National Grid so North Smithfield is not unique. I also have a friend who was a Vice President at National Grids US corporate office and was told that the US CEO had received over 50 complaints by North Smithfield customers about the power outages. The VP also told me that the person in charge of RI said he had spoken with the NS Town Administrator, and everything was ok. But the outages and complaints continued until the CEO demanded that the company addresses the issue. All of this with very little involvement from Gary except to coordinate the efforts with National Grid. I was also told that an electrical engineer actual sent detailed solutions to the CEO that were actually used to help the outage situation.

    A far as the roads, North Smithfield has made very little progress on the actual road paving study done several years ago. Gary mentions his plan to not use bonding is correct but what Gary fails to mention is he did not fund the budget properly and failed to spend the budget each year to properly maintain the roads. I do have to agree with Dave, Gary had a good plan but failed to execute the plan which is a failure. I also believe the roads that were completely reconstructed mentioned by Dave was Park View Drive and Edwards Avenue as a favor to Gary neighbors, friend, and a local contractor.

    Gary is taking credit for something he did not do and credit for something that has not been done is just typical political rhetoric. But Gary if it makes you sleep better at night thinking you accomplished great things for North Smithfield then who am I to say differently. And as far as the current issue your comments about how difficult it may be to actually tax the eclectic company is admitting defeat before you fought the battle. Sounds like your giving your friend John B. and excuse for his involvement in the solar development deal. Let the politics continue!

    • I just wanted to add that this past year, many trees did get cut down along the road my parent lives on, and National Grid did a great job of cleaning it up. I was having tons of work done at the house, and they had laid trees on parent’s lawn, but it was not for long.
      However, there were 2 recent power outages in a row anyhow, which was very concerning esp when elderly. I live in hurricane country and rarely have power out! So somewhere, there is a severe need for attention, causing these recurring outages. Old infrastructure perhaps. Whatever the cause, the linemen out there in all kinds of weather away from families, sure get my thanks for all they do! And the specialist that I had out from National Grid last year to inspect the whole house circuitry did a wonderful job. Appreciated all she did. Thanks so much to all. Much appreciated!
      .

      • When I moved here, it seemed whenever the wind would blow the wrong way we lost power, and there are still parts that are like this but definitely not as bad. Over the course of the year Probably lost it over once a month, some months were worse than others. I’m still amazed at how many trees/limbs fall down on to the road ways, and that’s from the dead trees, never mind the trees that are healthy snaps and cause issues.
        I can remember a time when rt 5 had a power outage every other weekend it seemed, and my area was spared most of the time. As far as the tree cutting, it always looks like they’re cutting down the same area that just got cut down last year.

    • Where did I say it was difficult to tax the electric company? My comment was only to offer benefit of what I learned as the TA. The substation should and no doubt will be taxed just like the rest of their land and infrastructure that makes them our largest single taxpayer. If managed appropriately I expect they will also pay any tax that was due but not billed. My point was only stating belief that there are state level caveats that control how and when.
      Your spiel on roads is great. Last I checked it’s the council that adopts a budget after hearing presentations from a budget committee and TA. I argued for funding as TA and again in the two budgets since I left office. I don’t recall hearing your voice, or anyone else here, in those proceedings. (Likewise with my tree cutting budget advocacy.) As to Parkview and Edward, those streets were two of 9 that were in our first nonbonded project. I trust you are also aware, a sewer project was the reason for including those two in that roadwork. The five member sewer commission spearheaded that effort and the council agreed. My only role was finding a way to finance it without bonding. Am I happy it was done? Absolutely. The condition of the brook that runs thru the area is vastly better for it being in place. (And, by the way, before you start jumping to conclusions, my home was connected to a sewer line in North Main back in 1984.)
      I’m no politician Mr Davis. I’ve done no one favors. Clearly I didn’t satisfy everyone but yes, I sleep quite well.

  5. A quick FYI: We have heard that contrary to the discussion at the council meeting, construction of this substation may not have been by Green Development. We are working to confirm the responsible party, and hope to publish a follow up soon.

    • It has been six years since I was forced to grind through a tax issue with National Grid but my recall is power distribution infrastructure construction and taxation is governed by state law that doesn’t parallel every detail of our local residential and commercial processes. I, for one, look forward to reading a more complete assessment.

      • Are we now dealing with RI Energy or National Grid. Also if my memory serves me correct Gary did not do a good job with National Grid when we had frequent power outages. The stats show that North Smithfield was the dead last community to get power restored.

        • Yet again a simple effort to provide understanding for the complexity involved with some municipal issues yields, well, what it yields. Dave Roberts, it doesn’t matter what company is involved there are state laws that apply to energy infrastructure construction and taxation that make the process different from local residential and commercial processes. As to any comparison of power restoration times by community I’m sure your “stats” include consideration for the priorities applied by power suppliers such as density of population, and location of critical infrastructure like hospitals, health care facilities, blocked roadways, and emergency service locations. The requests of any local elected official are appropriately secondary secondary to those priorities. Beyond that the path of a storm, relative intensity and persistent high winds also play into the mix. Surely your stats give consideration to all those factors statewide for each storm. Finally, look back through NS budget records to see who advocated raising the annual tree clearing budget to $50,000 per year to reduce the primary cause of outages along with what happened with that at the council level. Take some time also to see the arrangement I managed to get from our supplier when there when the huge tangible tax problem was dropped in my lap in 2017.
          These issues are not simple. Attempts to make them so are at best unfortunate.

          • Again Gary your tree cutting plan was not executed so mentioning you had a plan is just saying you again failed to execute with no plan. If you believed your plan was necessary you would have fought harder. Or you could have had the electric company do there job per the state law where they do the tree cutting at no cost to the town. This is just like your road paving no execution plan.

            Now as far as being the last community to be restored and the electric company mentions there procedure is absurd. Barrington, East Greenwich, and North Kingston have no hospitals and are not densely populated but they are repaired first. Why you may ask, people with connections, money, and residents that demand quality service for a excessive price. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Also just make sure to have our lawyer review the state laws because companies are notorious for misinterpreting laws in their favor.

            • Ah, now we know who we are really talking with! Do you have a system for keeping track of all your alias names?
              I don’t suppose you would think it reasonable that the impact in the south or east from storms coming from the south or east gets handled sooner than areas where the impact comes later. You should see that in your “stats”.
              You will be disappointed to know that my tree cutting efforts caused many trees to be removed under an agreement where Grid hired a tree cutting crew and our DPW removed the unchipable wood using it to heat the garage. That cut was also outside the normal 4 year rotation that Grid, and now RI Energy is compelled to provide (newsflash, they aren’t obligated to trim every year). And of course my road paving plan is still working with the two or more miles of road paved this year under the budgeting process I put in place. So, no need to thank me but you are welcome!
              All that aside I again say I look forward to NRINow’s further assessment of what has transpired regarding permits and taxation for the power company’s substation.

              • It is easy or maybe difficult to argue with someone who has zero results and facts. First off the roads study said you needed to spend $800K each year and the town has spent nowhere close to the recommended funding. As verified by the town audited financial statements. Second your friend John B cut the budget this year by $200K so you can’t pave the recommended roads with less money. Third the town allowed the utility company to tear up many streets this year, some that had been resurfaced just a few years earlier, so now those roads are in disrepair and need work. Fourth Pound Hill road that is heavily traveled has a section with more patch than road, other sections are like a chatter strip and has been awful for more than 10 years but we had to completely reconstruct a lightly traveled road off of North Main Street.

                Now for your crazy theory on the weather timing and power outages. Most of the outages have occurred over a few hours not days. Second most times the Northern part of the state has heavier and more snow than the southern part of the state with greater outages but the towns I mentioned still get repaired quicker. I also tracked times reported to repair times and North Smithfield still ranked the longest. This all points to the fact that most town administrators, state reps, and mayors have a backbone and demand timely repair. Also the electric company knows the towns they can ignore with little to no political backlash. Just remember when Barrington had a major outage the Governor got involved and demanded a study and a fine of the electric company. But North Smithfield gets zero noise from our politicians. Also the Grid had done little to no tree cutting in the last 10 to 15 years so they had to catch up on the never adhered 4 year schedule. Just note Gary that outages that lasted days in North Smithfield only got fixed by taxpayers who called the Governor’s office, state officials, and the grid CEO. In one outage that lasted 4 days, a call to the Grids parent company got 4 trucks to an area of North Smithfield in 15 minutes and power on in 20 minutes and that was not in the winter.

                Another point for readers in North Smithfield, the town had 1 to 2 power outages per month for 3 years and nothing was being done by town politicians until a small group of residents demanded tree cutting, automated reset switches, and other upgrades. Now we have had very few outages. But recently when a certain town council member was out for less than a day we heard his complaints. Let’s face the facts the Patriots had an unacceptable season and the town of North Smithfield performance has been unacceptable for many years. But taxes continue to increase, maybe we need a covered stadium or more fiscally knowledgeable politicians.

                • I didn’t post anything to argue with anyone Dave or should I say John R? You choose to argue with anyone with obvious intent to intimidate. Intimidation won’t work here. Your calls to National Grid in England didn’t help us at all. As to roads, what ever is done now started from my initiative to pave every year without resorting to bonding. Again no need to say thank you. Now, I will type slowly so you can focus and understand. The issue of concern is the substation installed for the solar project where further assessment of details is clearly necessary.

  6. Who followed up and made sure the taxes were paid? John Beaurefard did. Apparently he only gets credit for things people don’t agree with.

    Anyone who is so upset about this project was handled should feel free to run for office. It’s a lot more effort and dedication than posting on a news website, but you will actually have an opportunity to affect what you are complaining about.

    • Who’s the one who made the backdoor deal with the company? Who’s the one who made it possible for them to build with out permits? Who’s the one being verbally abusive towards residents? Who’s the one attacking military members? Who’s allowing the town administrator to still be working in the same building as his accuser? Who’s the one not giving the police department money for repairs to their building? Who’s the one to not ask for more companies or even the current company to finish fixing the roads?
      Do I place ALL the blame on him? Maybe a little too much, but he was the council president during those times (minus making the deal with the company, he was voted out during that period).
      If company was properly vetted, or if the special use permits were required, or many other things, maybe we would’ve had more money in the town budget. Maybe the three businesses wouldn’t have left last year. Maybe he would’ve kept his business in the town and not move it to a different state skipping out on paying taxes to the town. Maybe he would criticize the correct president responsible for high gas prices. Maybe he wouldn’t attack town residents or the state’s military. Unfortunate that the residents have to pick up the bill for his decisions.

    • Mr. Beauregard needs to take ownership for his actions. Mr. Beauregard did not understand the internal government process when he circumvented zoning and the permits process to push through his agenda. The reason for the process is to avoid issues like we are now facing. Bringing the issue up after the fact is just a way to cover up a bad decision. What Mr. Beauregard should do now is work with the tax assessor to determine the amount of taxes owed and then present the bill to Green Development for payment. Mr. Beauregard should also monitor the bill to make sure the taxes are paid.

      • John there is no Mandela effect here. You circumvented the process and now you are covering your tracks. I would rather you say I made a mistake, take ownership of that mistake and then we can come up with a plan to clean up the wrong doings.

  7. Hamilton was right we do have two culprits, it’s “Zwolenski and Beauregard”. They both couldn’t wait to push that monstrosity of a solar panel grid through when they were on the council. Beauregard’s love fest with Green development will come back and haunt him for a while to come. The town was taken to the cleaners by Green development, and good luck collecting back taxes. I’m sure the assessment the town applies will bring another suit against the town.

    • 100% in agreement. JB needs to take the fall for this mess. JB you need to include more safe guard language in agreements with companies with little history and a checkered track record.

  8. The only thing “GREEN” Development is interested in is green money. So much for trusting this company. We also can not believe John Beauregard’s and green developments cost estimate for the concession stand. Unfortunately the company was not properly vetted and we had one person who thought this company was honest. What else are we going to find out in the future related to the solar panels. We should also stay away from teaming up with this company to expand the football field parking lot. I also think there may be an issue collecting taxes from this company. You can not trust the “Easter” bunny.

    • Social media allows lambs to think they are lions. You forgot to add we also cannot trust people who do not have the courage to use their real name when they comment on social media and in the Valley Breeze.

      John Beauregard

      • Social media also allows for you to attack town residents and the country’s military. You made a backdoor deal while you were not on the council for passing the terrible nike ban, forcing it upon the town, in exchange for a concession stand that you were quoted at saying it was 287k and recently said it was over 600k. You also passed the special zoning for it which allowed green development to bypass the zoning board of review nullifying the special use permit needed. Still waiting for an apology and an email from you, but according to you I don’t belong in the town and am too dumb for the military.

      • While I am in agreement that the use of full names should be required for comment, please also note that the citizens of the town – including you – are neither “lambs nor lions” but concerned residents that expect transparency, honest and informed responses and representation for all, not just for special interests.

      • My real name is right here. The Town took this whole mess on the chin. In the long run N Smithfield will end up with remediation costs the Town cannot afford. The bonds for end of life usage on this project are inadequate. Time will prove that out…

      • We should all remember these type of poor business decisions and judgements next time we are electing the town council.

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