LETTER

Warwick needs a solar strategy that preserves our trees, forests

Posted 7/8/21

To the Editor: A risky solar ordinance - one that puts every scrap of residential and open space land in Warwick on the table for commercial solar development - is on a glide path to passage at the next City Council meeting. Warwick has lots of solar

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LETTER

Warwick needs a solar strategy that preserves our trees, forests

Posted

To the Editor:

A risky solar ordinance – one that puts every scrap of residential and open space land in Warwick on the table for commercial solar development – is on a glide path to passage at the next City Council meeting.

Warwick has lots of solar development potential. Warwick should take a strategic approach, optimizing renewable energy siting and avoiding the problems experienced in other communities. Urge the council to adopt an ordinance that explicitly directs solar development to its developed, commercial, and industrial areas; and provides clear accessory use regulations for residential areas.

This can be done by deleting the obscure but critical footnote – yes FOOTNOTE – number 27. Footnote 27 brings all the city’s residential and open space under a solar overlay district and creates an umbrella for spot solar zoning throughout the city.

The proposed approval process places the City Council in the middle of every major solar siting decision, large or small, throughout the city on a case-by-case basis without clear guidance and standards for 1) evaluating potential sites, 2) valuing “direct benefit” proposals from developers, 3) considering cumulative impacts, or 4) guiding strategic development of solar in the city overall.

The new approval process has been characterized as arduous and time consuming and hence a deterrent to widespread solar development throughout residential areas in the city. However, there is no evidence to support this claim and a significant danger that solar developers will gain a de facto ability to develop solar “by right” citywide once properties become “overlay eligible.”

The city must manage the key tradeoff in solar development from a climate and community character perspective. That tradeoff is the extensive deforestation and tree canopy destruction associated with solar development. Although solar development is not the only threat to forests and tree canopy, this connection must be addressed up front for two reasons. First, solar energy is an extremely land intensive use – 10 times that of traditional energy sources according to the recent Grow Smart/URI study. Second, solar development is being driven by federal and state incentives designed to fight climate change. It is lunacy to add special, permissive treatment for solar development throughout the city “because of climate change” if the likely result is the accelerated destruction of Warwick’s remaining forests and tree canopy.

Warwick’s trees and forests filter pollution from our air and waterways. They lower urban temperatures, decreasing energy use. They capture carbon to slow the rate of climate change. They provide critical habitat for wildlife. They support healthier lifestyles for us and our families (Arbor Day Foundation). Protecting existing intact forests and allowing them to grow to their ecological potential is critical to any successful effort to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

Warwick needs a solar strategy that preserves, as much as we can, our dwindling forests and tree canopy while maximizing the solar development potential in the city’s extensive swathes of industrial commercial areas. The project level performance standard in the proposed ordinance are a good start for development in those target areas, but to keep it there DELETE FOOTNOTE 27!

Where do we want solar development in Warwick? Unless the answer is everywhere, we should not pass an ordinance, which makes that possible. Please contact your City Council member and let them know that you care about how and where solar is developed in Warwick. Ask how your council member would evaluate a proposal for solar development on a parcel down the street or in your neighborhood. Then ask if the rest of the council will go along …

Warwick should face head-on the question of where we want large scale solar. The planning department can ID the likely areas based on current constraints, proximity to substations, interest expressed and project future use scenarios for the community to review. A case-by-case solar build out driven by interested developers is not a good strategy for Warwick. We are likely to lose our most valuable sites and best preservation options for the future right out of the gates.

A solar ordinance that opens the entire city to solar development with a FOOTNOTE needs to get pushed off the fast track. Call your council member. Tell them to delete FOOTNOTE 27 from the ordinance. Come to the council meeting on July 19 and show that you care about Warwick’s future.

Jane Kenney Austin
Warwick

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