WARWICK, RI — The Warwick City Council passed three resolutions overhauling solar regulations for power installs within the comprehensive plan, zoning, and tax exemption rules.
The regulations governing commercial and private solar power in Warwick have been under intense scrutiny by officials and the public for the last year, since the issue arose at a City Council meeting last June.
In November, the Warwick City Council established a moratorium on solar power applications in the city pending efforts to incorporate citizens’ concerns from an earlier October workshop on City law regulating solar installations.
Comprehensive plan changes
Changes to the comprehensive plan, outlined in PCO-2-22, the first of the measures to pass Monday night, had the following effects:
- Established the ability for the city to explore alternative energy such as micro-scale solar or wind power to reduce energy costs.
- Spelled out the danger of allowing tax incentives to pressure solar development in forests, open space and field areas.
- Encouraged solar siting in existing commercial and industrial areas.
- Encouraged solar canopies and rooftop solar in existing commercial and industrial areas.
- Encouraged private sector to augment fossil fuels with solar on already-developed sites.
The zoning changes focused on the areas where solar installations would be allowed in th city, identified by a chart. Additionally:
- Large-scale solar systems are prohibited in Warwick
- Solar energy systems must be compatible with the surrounding area, provide for public safety, and minimize impacts on wildlife, scenic, natural and historic resources, and abutting properties.
- Preliminary review by a landscape architect must confirm there is adequate, year-round landscape buffer to screen the installation.
- Maximum height is 10 feet.
- No substantial clearing or grading of the proposed project site shall have occurred five years prior to submission of the application for an SES based on a review of aerial photography provided by the applicant.
- Clearcutting outside of the immediate array area is prohibited unless required by remediation permit.
- Calculation of a decommissioning reserve shall be predicated upon the assumption that 100 percent of the retired solar panels will be recycled by an accredited solar panel waste recycler.
- Within one week after permanent shutdown, the owner shall notify the Building Official and remove the system within six months. The city will use escrow funds to remove all or remaining system components beyond six months, with owner, applicant, and or operator liable for all expenses beyond escrow.
Solar tax exemption ordinance
- Residential and manufacturing properties that install renewable energy systems are exempt from local taxation.
- Commercial renewable energy systems are subject to a tangible tax payment to the municipality through rules and regulations that have been adopted by the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (RIOER).
- Exempts from tangible personal property taxation commercial net metered renewable energy systems whose sole purpose is to offset electricity bills and not to sell power back to the electric distribution system.
All three regulations, embedded at pdf. links below, passed unanimously. When the third passed, about 15 people attending gave the Warwick City Council a standing ovation for their efforts.
Michael Zarum, member of the Warwick Land Trust and a stalwart leader helping to organize efforts to document and bring attention to people’s concerns about poorly regulated solar installs, was pleased.
“I want to thank all of your for prioritizing these items tonight,” Zarum said. He said he still supports it, as do all the residents he’s spoken to about it.
“I want everybody in this Council to give yourself a big, big pat on the back. You deserve a lot of kudos. I feel that this legislation, once passed, will set a new model for the state of Rhode Island. During the last week I’ve had people from other municipalities call me to ask me where it stands. They want to model after it,” Zarum said.
“I just want to thank all of you for listening. We’ve been at this for months and months and months,” said Barbara Walsh. “All of you are embodying what good government should be, which makes my heart very warm and gleeful, actually.”
This is a test