BURRILLVILLE – Town officials have drafted new zoning guidelines to ensure that any solar energy projects that come to town do not compromise public safety or impact natural and historic resources, and are compatible with the neighborhood in which they are located.
The Town Council is inviting public comment on the new guidelines, which are proposed as amendments to the town’s zoning ordinance, at a hearing to be held Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 105 Harrisville Main St., Harrisville.
The purpose of the amendment is to promote the creation of ground-mounted solar installations by providing standards for their placement, design, construction and operation and to make sure they are compatible with the town’s comprehensive plan.
When a solar system project was proposed and later withdrawn in town earlier this year, the Town Council realized there was a need to set local guidelines for companies seeking to operate solar energy systems and directed the Ordinance Subcommittee to draft an ordinance amendment in coordination with the Zoning and Planning Boards.
According to the proposed Burrillville regulations, all solar photovoltaic installation applications must be reviewed by the Planning Board and will be allowed in a general commercial zoning district through a special use permit. Net metering solar photovoltaic installations for residential or commercial uses, however, will be allowed in all zoning districts as a matter of right. The regulations do not preclude the town from installing ground mounted or other solar photovoltaic facilities on any town-owned or controlled property regardless of the zoning district
The domestic solar energy industry continues to grow at a staggering pace. In 2011, photovoltaic installations grew 109 percent over the previous year, bringing the current total of installed domestic capacity to almost 4,000 megawatts – enough solar energy to meet average demand from almost one million U.S. homes
More and more cities and towns, including Burrillville, are interested in pursuing solar energy systems to directly offset energy expenses.
In East Providence, for example, city officials this week broke ground on the first phase of the Forbes Street solar farm project, which will include a 3 megawatt solar array facility. At full estimated capacity, the Forbes Street solar energy system would be one of the largest solar facilities in New England and the first active use of the 229-acre Forbes Street property since the landfill closed in 1979 after a decade as the city’s dump.
Two years ago, the Town of Uxbridge signed an agreement with Constellation Energy to construct an $8 million 2,400-kilowatt ground-mounted solar photovoltaic plant on 15.5 acres of privately owned land on Commerce Drive. As part of that arrangement, the town will receives annual property tax payments of $41,000 over the 20-year lease term, as well as a 10 percent net excess generation credit applied to meters owned by the town to offset the town’s energy bill.
In Bellingham, the School Department has negotiated a deal with Energy in the Bank to build an 8,000-panel solar farm on the Maple Street landfill, which would offset 90 percent of its energy use and save the district more than $2 million in energy costs over the next 20 years.
The Town of Blackstone is also preparing to contract with a solar energy developer that will finance, build, and operate ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels at the former landfill on Chestnut Street.