SMITHFIELD – The Smithfield Zoning Board of Review last week approved a special use permit for a 10.7-megawatt solar array at 512 Log Road, allowing the large-scale solar system in a residential district.
The ground-mounted solar farm will not seek any variances from the Smithfield solar ordinance, said Joelle Rocha, attorney for applicant Daniel Coolong.
Still, the Zoning Board on June 26 approved the solar farm with a request that the Planning Board, which gave master plan approval for the project on May 16, work with the developer to plant seedlings to replace trees cut for the project.
Zoning Board Chairman James Busam said developers should “make every effort to replant as many trees and join in any other program developed for solar farms,” that the town may request.
Of the 119-acre lot, developers will clear-cut 46 acres of land, or 38.8 percent of the lot. While below the 40 percent maximum clearance under the town’s zoning ordinance, Zoning Board alternate Kaity Ryan said the project means a loss to the community.
“The reality is there is a net loss of 46 acres of trees that are helping to reduce carbon in the Smithfield environment,” Ryan said.
She said the community plan calls for more open space, and she would like to see developers commit to planting trees.
At the May 16 Planning Board meeting, the owner expressed willingness to plant seedlings in other parts of town to replace the downed trees.
Rocha told the Zoning Board that the developer is exploring the option of donating seedlings to the town to plant somewhere else, as the ordinance for clearance on the site does not allow room for reforesting the site.
She said the solar farm appeared before the board numerous times, and was respectful not to request any zoning relief.
Resident Don Brown of Russell Lane said he was concerned about the conservation of natural environment “of the little critters.” He said solar farms are popping up everywhere, and the town should place a limit on such facilities.
“Pretty soon, there will be no environment left to sustain life,” Brown said.
In total, the solar farm will cover 27.7 acres, or 19.2 percent of the lot, which is less than the 20 percent maximum allowable coverage, including all spaces between fixed panels.
This particular lot was previously cut, said experts, and classified as an unhealthy forest. Trees born out of existing stumped ground are not considered as strong and are more susceptible to disease.
Board members noted that lot will have a passive use for 25 years, and will not be used for a major land development that could clear out more trees.
Member Linda Marcello said the Log Road location was right for a solar farm.
David Russo, of DiPrete Engineering, presented the project, saying the two transformers on the site are 190 feet from the property line, 540 feet from the nearest house, 400 feet to the property line, and 675 feet from the nearest house.
Abutters expressed concern that the project will be disruptive to the neighborhood, asking for more buffering.
Russo said the developer will be willing to move panels further back from abutters’ homes and increase the buffer if necessary to ease neighbor concerns. A full site plan with a landscape plan focused on the buffer will be presented at the preliminary plan stage with the Planning Board.
“At night, solar is off. Once the sun is down, there’s nothing running on the site,” Russo said.
The developer has a decommission bond for the removal of the solar equipment to remove it after 25 years, Russo said. He added that the panels lose 2 percent efficiency in the first year, and decline by 1 percent each year after that. In 20 years, the panels will be at 80 percent efficiency.
Also in compliance, the developer will put in a six-foot security chain-link fence raised eight inches off the ground to allow small animals to pass underneath.
Log Road Solar will return to the Planning Board for preliminary plan approval for the next stage in the process.