NORTH SMITHFIELD â€“ Construction has officially begun on what will soon become Rhode Islandâ€™s largest solar farm, a 38.4-megawatt array located between Iron Mine Hill Road and Route 146.
By the time the farm is completed next year, the array will include 122,000 solar panels spread out over a 160-acre fenced-in area. About 185 acres of trees were cleared for the project, which is located on a site of more than 400 acres.
In addition to being the largest solar farm in Rhode Island when itâ€™s completed, Mark DePasquale, founder and CEO of North Kingstown-based Green Development, said itâ€™s the largest project the company has ever taken on.
â€śThis is one of the biggest projects in New England,â€ť he said.
Though the company only received its official signoff from the Planning Board earlier this month, tree clearing for the project began late last year after the company obtained a forestry permit from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. DePasquale said all clearing and stumping has been completed and the next step is grading, which is expected to include blasting on the property.
Last Thursday, members of the town Planning Board and Conservation Commission took a tour of the site, including the foundation of a historic farmhouse that once belonged to the Mowry family. The foundation, which was not mentioned in an initial archaeological survey earlier this year, later became a source of debate after board member and North Smithfield Heritage Association President Richard Keene pointed out its existence and lobbied for its preservation.
The company has agreed to preserve the foundation and a 25-foot area around it.
Despite the tour being listed as a public meeting, Green Development declined to allow reporters on the property, citing concerns about liability and the wishes of the landowner, Ralph Ferra. DePasquale and Green Development Engineering Director Kevin Morin answered questions at the entrance to the site, saying they were excited to begin construction.
â€śItâ€™s a long project. Weâ€™re happy that itâ€™s done, itâ€™s going to be good for the town,â€ť said DePasquale, referring to the projectâ€™s 27-month approval process, which began in March 2018.
DePasquale said the company has hired about 20 new employees to work on the project, with approximately 27 on site last week. At its peak, he said, the project will require between 200 and 300 employees on the property daily after panel installation begins in the fall.
The solar farm is scheduled to go online by October 2021.