By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
CRANSTON, R.I. — To the dismay of open-space advocates, the City Council recently approved a key zoning exemption that opens the door for construction of the state’s largest solar array. The zoning measure, put forth by Mayor Allan Fung, passed at the council’s Nov. 24 meeting.
“It was a very discouraging loss for the city's farming future, as I'm sure more landowners will be sucked in by the promises of instant riches from big energy at the expense of best use of land,” said Annemarie Bruun, a local resident and vice president of the West Bay Land Trust. “It's also a sad commentary that our city’s leadership thinks business-friendly means excluding the public, evading zoning regulations and ignoring the comprehensive plan in the interest of political expediency.”
The West Bay Land Trust sought to acquire and protect the privately owned 75-acre parcel as part of the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for a historic farm corridor that preserves open space and natural habitat. Since 2012, the property has been leased to a corn farmer.
The Forbes Street landfill array in East Providence is currently the largest solar energy system in the state, with 13,000 panels and 3.7 megawatts of capacity. Plans are moving forward to add 4 megawatts of capacity to the system.