Proposed Solar Interconnections in Cranston Would Impact Two Protected Properties

 Laten Knight Road in Cranston, R.I., runs between two conserved properties. (Rhode Island Land Trust Council)

Laten Knight Road in Cranston, R.I., runs between two conserved properties. (Rhode Island Land Trust Council)

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

CRANSTON, R.I. — The work needed to make the interconnections to the power grid for two industrial-scale solar projects would clear the forest canopy that connects two conservation areas, according to the Rhode Island Land Trust Council.

The statewide coalition has asked the State Properties Committee to reject the proposed easement agreements between the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and National Grid for a new utility corridor along Laten Knight Road, noting that the road runs between protected lands for which the state holds property interests.

Laten Knight Road is bordered by the John L. Curran Management Area, a DEM-owned property that is protected as open space, and Knight Farm, a property owned by the city and protected by a conservation easement held by DEM. Both properties are managed by specific development protections.

This new power-line corridor is needed to connect two utility-scale solar-energy facilities that have been built in western Cranston to the regional power grid.

Rupert Friday, executive director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, recently told ecoRI News that, “I find it surprising that the city of Cranston approved the development of these energy facilities without the developers and National Grid having approval for power lines to connect to the power grid.”

He said it appears to him that National Grid and the developers, Boston-based Southern Sky Renewable Energy and British-based RES Energy Development, are “intentionally fragmenting, piecemealing their applications for encroachment to make it appear that the utility easements don’t have much impact.”

Friday said the work needed to make the interconnections would clear the forest canopy that connects the two protected properties.

Item G on the July 17 meeting agenda for the State Properties Committee is a request for the approval and execution of two easement agreements between DEM and National Grid that are necessary for the installation of six leads with anchors to support new electric poles on land abutting the John L. Curran Management Area.

This specific agenda item has since been postponed at DEM’s request.

In a July 16 letter to Marco Schiappa, chair of the State Properties Committee, Friday wrote that Rhode Island should require National Grid to request approval for all utility easements and encroachments on the state’s protected open space in one comprehensive application so the cumulative impacts can be evaluated.

“These utility easements will result in development of utility infrastructure and tree clearing that will violate state law and the provisions of the state’s conservation easement,” Friday wrote. “This significant damage to state interests in these protected open space properties should be rejected.

“National Grid did not conduct a transparent analysis of alternative corridors and did not adequately consult RIDEM and the community. They should be required to document a thorough, and publicly-transparent analysis of corridor options that validates there is not a reasonable alternative route for the required new utility corridor other than going through protected lands.”

He told ecoRI News that a growing trend nationwide is seeing developers and utilities target protected land when new utility corridors and pipelines are needed.

“It lowers cost,” Friday said. “They don’t want to deal with private property owners and pay. It’s cheaper to clear-cut a large tract of forest.”

He noted in both his letter to the State Properties Committee and during his conversation with ecoRI News that Rhode Island has been working to develop a consensus for the siting of industrial-scale solar projects. The Office of Energy Resources stakeholder group has even adopted a draft set of 13 principles for renewable-energy siting. Principle 6 reads: “Honor commitments to keep permanently protected land free from development.”

The West Bay Land Trust appealed the decision to remove city street trees on Hope Road, Lippitt Avenue, and Laten Knight Road, after National Grid last month began marking 243 trees for removal for the interconnection of the already-built Lippitt Avenue and Hope Road solar projects. The July 12 appeal was denied the next day.