NORTH SMITHFIELD – More than two years after North Kingstown-based Green Development first appeared before town boards, the company received its final signoff last Thursday, June 4, to build a 38.4-megawatt solar farm off Iron Mine Hill Road.
The project is larger than any currently in operation in the state. The company has already begun tree clearing and preliminary development on the site, which comprises 180 acres between Greenville Road and Route 146.
The approval, made on a 4-1 vote, came with some last-minute conditions. Earlier this year, Mark Viggiani, superintendent of the Woonsocket Water Division, raised concerns that the project could pose a risk to the nearby Woonsocket Reservoir. Several streams running through the property, he pointed out, make their way to the reservoir, and any contamination from construction or blasting activities could end up in the drinking water for the two municipalities.
“It would be like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube once you put it out,” he told board members last week. “I’m trying to alleviate any contamination problems with the water beforehand, and I’d rather do it beforehand than trying to fix it after the fact.”
Viggiani submitted a list of requests to Green Development, which the company reviewed at the request of the Planning Board. Tom Daley, an engineer for the project, told board members the company would incorporate all of Viggiani’s suggestions except one. While Viggiani wanted the company to conduct surface water testing every time there was a quarter-inch of rain, Daley said that frequency – there were 66 days with a quarter-inch of rain in 2019 – would be “excessive.”
“We’re not against testing, but we wanted to make it reasonable,” he said.
With Planning Board members sitting in, the two sides eventually agreed to a less frequent testing schedule once the project is constructed.
The Woonsocket Water Division also raised concerns about blasting. Tom Nicholson, an engineer hired by the division to review the plans, pointed out the blasting plans submitted by the company were generic and did not include details about what would happen on the site.
“I know the kind of guys you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with drillers or blasters, they’re not Shakespeare, but I thought we could get something that’s a little more specific to this site,” Nicholson said.
Board members agreed that the water division should have access to all additional materials about blasting as they arrive.
Town Planner Tom Kravitz told the board they would eventually have to decide whether to put their faith in the required testing to prevent any water contamination or deny the project.
Board members voted 4-1 to issue final approval, with member Jeffrey Porter voting against.
The company plans to have the solar farm operational by September 2021.