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The creation of an eight-member working group to study passive renewable energy options for town and school properties received the approval of the Town Council June 26.

The 4-0 vote, with Councilor Doreen Costa absent due to illness, is aimed at identifying potential revenue streams that do not place an additional burden on local taxpayers. Council President Richard Welch said that objective is particularly important in light of the town’s revenue shortfall for the past fiscal year.

“We need to get out to the public and get [the discussion] going to create revenue not from taxpayers, but from utilizing either pieces of ground that otherwise cannot be used for anything else,” Welch said. He added that he was “ready to do this” during his first stint on the council from 2012-14, and said the town is about “three to four years late” in exploring renewable energy projects.

The working group will consist of two councilors – Welch and Kevin Maloney volunteered for those slots – along with two School Committee members, two town administrators and two school administrators. Councilors considered having members of the Asset Management Commission and the school district’s Facility Subcommittee serve on the working group before voting on the chosen configuration.

As part of the June 26 discussion, Welch cited a Sonoma, California-based news report from 2013 that indicated the Sonoma Valley Unified School District saved close to $500,000 after installing its solar energy system. He also mentioned a major solar project planned in Connecticut.

Welch said, however, that the town should not spend an excessive amount and should pursue projects that require “little or no investment other than leasing land at the present time.”

Welch also suggested the working group review the city of East Providence’s closure of a landfill on Forbes Street to allow for a massive solar farm to be built in 2014. According to the website of CME Energy – the firm that built the solar farm – the solar plant delivers “clean electricity to thousands of people in Rhode Island” through energy sales to National Grid under a 15-year power purchase agreement.

Town Manager A. Ralph Mollis said he can set up a meeting with Director of Public Works Phil Bergeron and the working group, even if it is simply a single gathering at which Bergeron updates the group on potential projects.

“Then, we’ll leave with some direction and report back to the council,” Mollis said.

Councilor Kerry McKay suggested having “meaningful” discussions with those who have already installed solar farms and panels, such as Quonset Development Corp. and other companies.

“Without having that knowledge, you can’t have an intelligent discussion about this thing,” he said. “It takes expertise [to go over it].”

Bergeron said he liked the idea of bringing QDC Managing Director Steven King into the discussion. Additionally, Bergeron said he has a request for qualifications out to bring in consultants to give the town “advice” on state laws and tax credits available.

“I know it can be complicated,” Bergeron said, “so bringing in a consultant would be a good first step.”

Planning Commission post goes unfilled

Despite three candidates being suggested, the council was unable to select a new Planning Commission member.

The commission has a vacancy following the departure of Michael Annarummo after six years of service, and there is currently no civil engineer on the commission. The new member, when appointed, will serve until July 1, 2023.

Councilors were unable to reach a consensus on Annarummo’s successor June 26 and the position will have to be re-advertised, with a possible decision at the council’s July 17 meeting.

McKay suggested Elaine Lemieux, who previously served on the town’s Zoning Board of Review, Wickford Plan Committee and the Town Manager Citizens Search Panel, but his motion failed as there was no second. McKay said not selecting Lemieux is a “big mistake” given her “experience in this field.”

Maloney recommended Tracey McCue, who served on the Building Code Board of Appeals and is currently on the Compensation Commission. That vote failed 2-2, with Ellen Waxman and McKay dissenting.

Waxman then made a motion for former Warwick City Councilor Bruce Place to serve on the commission, but that also received no second.

In other business:

  • The council approved a first reading of an ordinance amendment pertaining to the town’s sewer appeals board.

The proposed change calls for the board to consist of three members and two alternate members appointed by the council from members of the town’s Assessment Board of Review, Asset Management Commission, Building Code Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission and/or the Zoning Board for a three-year term.

If a second read passes after a public hearing July 17, the new configuration will replace the council as the appeals board and start the long-awaited process of residents appealing their sewer assessments.

  • The council also approved North Kingstown Police spending $118,000 to purchase four new 2017 Ford Police Utility Explorers, two marked and two unmarked, from Tasca Ford in Connecticut – the lowest of four potential bidders – to help replace an aging fleet. The money was budgeted for the purchase in the 2017-18 fiscal budget.

Both votes were 3-1, with Waxman dissenting.

nk@independentri.com

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