By ALEX MALM When the Warwick City Council considered a proposed solar ordinance this summer Jane Austin, a former School Committee chairwoman began writing letters to the editor in the Warwick Beacon, the Providence Journal and other publications
A few days before the Aug. 16 Council meeting Ajay Pande and other neighbors to the Valley Country Club, rumored to be eyed as a solar development, read a letter by Austin posted on the social media platform Nextdoor.
Pande and neighbors quickly began a grassroots movement of informing others about the upcoming public hearing.
“We really went canvassing, we really went door to door,” said Pande.
While he and about four others were out canvassing he said that a lot of people were learning about the proposal for the first time.
On Aug. 16 the City Council held a public hearing for the second passage for a proposed solar ordinance crafted by the previous administration. While the first vote taken on July 19 drew little discussion at the meeting, the final vote had many in attendance questioning it, and making suggestions. A vote was taken to take that proposal off the table and instead directed the planning department to start from scratch with a new proposal.
Last Wednesday Mayor Frank Picozzi and Planning Director Tom Kravitz held a community workshop at the Police Department’s community room as a way to allow community members to give their input about the solar ordinance.
The room was packed it was standing room only.
“It shows that people really care that this is an important issue and it appeals to people on a lot of different dimensions,” Austin said about the crowd size, many of whom were encouraged to go to the meeting by their neighbors.
Councilman Vincent Gebhart said he was impressed by how the meeting turned out.
“Fantastic turnout, not just the quantity of people, but the quality of their thoughtful presentations,” he said. “Director Kravits did a great job, listened to the comments and feedback from participants, and seemed inclined to incorporate their feedback in the next ordinance draft.”
While the majority of those in attendance were happy with at least some parts of the revised solar ordinance most felt that there still needed to be changes made to make it even stronger.
One thing that Austin pointed to that she and others want the Administration to consider is identifying commercial properties that would be good for solar. She noted that there are a lot of commercial properties that could have solar canopies. She pointed to places like CCRI, and the mall parking lots as possibilities.
Gebhart also agreed that it would make sense to look at where developing solar would be beneficial to everyone.
“A recurring theme we heard was that the city should spend some time identifying sites where solar would be preferred -- I like that. We could, through the office of economic development, help match blighted / brown field / vacant industrial or commercial properties with solar developers,” he said.
Pande said that it's also important to look at smart ways to implement solar development in the City.
“We're all for renewable energy but it has to be good strategies,” he said.
He said the administration listened to their concerns and is going back to the drawing board regarding the ordinance.
“When people are concerned, and they voice their concerns to our leaders, they listen. That's a good thing. We can affect change that way,”
While it’s undetermined when the City Council will take a vote on a new draft of the solar ordinance Austin said that it’s important for people to voice their concerns at public hearings regarding issues they care about.
“People have to come out, that's why this is being rethought right now because people turned out,” she said.