Portsmouth solar farm hearing postponed to March 30

Witnesses weren't available for Thursday's meeting


A hearing on a proposed solar farm off Union Street near the Middletown line has been delayed again.

The Zoning Board of Review has scheduled a special hearing on Thursday, March 30, for Portsmouth Solar LLC’s application to build a 2.9-megawatt solar farm in a residential zone abutting Seabury Apartments off Jepson Lane.

The zoning board began its hearing on the proposal in January but it came to a halt on Feb. 16, when the attorneys for the developer alerted the panel that several abutters who live in Middletown hadn’t been mailed notices.

By law the zoning board had no choice but to start the process all over again, with new notices sent out by the developer. 

The new hearing was to have begun Thursday night, March 16. However, because the zoning board was anticipating the possibility of failing to get a quorum that evening, several people expected to testify weren’t available Thursday, said Eric Chappell, one of Portsmouth Solar’s attorneys. 

Zoning Board Chairman James Edwards said he understood, as the panel has struggled recently with membership. That problem was rectified by the Town Council’s appointment March 13 of a second alternate, Benjamin Furriel, who sat for his first meeting Thursday. (Two regular members were absent Thursday, but the board still had a quorum.)

“The board has a full membership,” said Mr. Edwards. “We have seven members, which we probably haven’t had in two years.”

The board then voted to move the hearing to 7 p.m. on March 30. The solar farm’s petition will be the only item on that night’s agenda. 

“We’re going to start the petition from scratch,” said Mr. Edwards, who added that the testimony will be “streamlined” somewhat because board members have already heard much of the developer’s basic application.

One of the Middletown abutters, Robert King of 200 John Kesson Lane, was present Thursday. Mr. King, who received his mailed notice two days earlier, said he and others were concerned their homes would be impacted from reflection coming from solar panels. He said he would return for the March 30 hearing.

Mr. Chappell noted that 43 people had an interest in one common lot that abuts the the development, so all of them had to be sent notice of the hearing.

8,400 solar panels

The Seabury Apartments development owns the vacant property where the solar array is planned. 

The project, which would feature nearly 8,400 solar panels, requires a special-use permit that is not explicitly listed in the town’s zoning ordinance. The developers hope the solar farm will be operation by the end of this year.

If the project is approved National Grid, under the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Growth Program, will purchase energy produced by the solar farm at 14.65 cents per kilowatt peak for 20 years.


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