GLOCESTER – The Glocester Zoning Board last week unanimously approved a 6-acre solar development at White Oak Farm, saying the plan demonstrates what the town’s solar ordinance intends for renewable energy on land zoned for farming.
Representing owners Roger, Patricia and Paul Phillips of the farm, attorney John Mancini said the purpose of the solar array is to supplement their income during low-performing harvests.
The Zoning Board granted a special use permit and dimensional variances during the Oct. 24 meeting.
Kevin Morin of Green Development said the solar farm is designed to not interrupt farming operations, which include growing corn, blueberries, raspberries and peaches.
“We worked closely with White Oak Farm for those uses could continue,” Morin said.
He said the dimensional variances are a byproduct of needing to work around farming zones. The Zoning Board granted four dimensional variances for setback relief from a right-of-way, a land-locked plot on the farm, and the bordering Audubon conservation land.
Morin said the project will not be seen from the road or by the majority of neighbors. No abutter attended the meeting to contest the developer’s claim or oppose the project.
“It was purposely located very central to the property with respect (to the) area around it,” Morin said, adding that he believes it fit in with the character of the town and tone of its solar ordinance.
Hannah Morini of Green Development said White Oak Farm owners intend on farming the land as long as possible and have a five-year farming plan on file with the town. She said the current owners represent the fifth generation of farmers here. Solar will be the insurance policy in place that will allow the family to keep farming, and “epitomized the goal” of the ordinance.
“The ultimate goal is the preservation of the farmland. Solar will help,” Morini said.
Plans include minimal clearing of the land, 6.9 acres, or 12.3 percent of the total acreage, which is less than the 30 percent allowed by ordinance.
The only changes in the plan presented to the Zoning Board were adding a fence around the two pads of ground-mounted solar panels, and the connection to National Grid was moved underground.
The 1.9-megawatt system will be placed on agricultural/residential land, which requires a special use permit for utility-scale, ground-mounted energy systems.
The North Kingstown-based Green Development will lease the space from White Oak Farm, providing needed support for off-seasons. Green Development will pay Glocester a tax of $5,000 per megawatt, or approximately $9,000 per year.
“This isn’t just a solar project. This is a solar project that is allowing the retention of farming operations for the owners,” Morini said.
At the end of a 25-year lease, Green Development is responsible to return the space back to previous conditions, including removing the concrete pads.
The Planning Board will review the solar array again for preliminary plans and, if those are approved, final review.