December 17, 20190

The firm has been blogging frequently about renewable energy statutes and regulations lately. This is because renewable energy is a fast-moving and cutting edge area of law. Solar panel laws are no exception.

Solar farm projects are popping up in the more rural areas of the state. Rural areas generally have more square footage, which is required for a solar farm. Each municipality is different, though. Zoning and planning ordinances vary by city and town, depending on their goals and Comprehensive Plans.

The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission

In Rhode Island, there are several state agencies which regulate renewable energy projects and oversee solar panel laws. For example, the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (“RIPUC”) requires that solar developers apply for and receive a few approvals. These approvals must be obtained by the developer prior to construction.

The RIPUC regulates solar projects through programs such as the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Growth Program. An applicant must submit an Application for Certification of Eligibility under this program from the RIPUC. Once the Certificate is issued, the RIPUC then issues an Order, certifying the applicant for eligibility as a New, Solar Renewable Energy Resource.

The Rhode Island Renewable Energy Standard Act

The Rhode Island Renewable Energy Standard Act (“RES Act”) is one of the solar panel laws in the state. Its purpose is to foster implementation of new renewable energy resources. One of the law’s goal is also to stabilize long-term energy prices for consumers. The RES Act defines specific types of energy that qualify as a renewable energy resource. Under solar panel laws such as the RES Act, direct solar radiation, wind, heat from the ocean, and heat from the earth are all eligible energy sources.

Case Law

Renewable energy litigation has resulted in new case law and decisions that impact developers, town staff, and property owners alike. For example, in a recent case, an abutting property owner appealed a town’s decision to issue a Special Use Permit. The permit was issued to a solar project developer by the Town’s Zoning Board of Review.

In municipalities where the zoning ordinance does not specifically define a solar array, the municipality has discretion to determine whether the project should be approved. In this case, the Zoning Board of Review voted to approve the solar development use in a residential area. As you can see, the abutting residential property owners took issue with the town’s decision.

The reviewing court categorized the solar facility in the town as being more akin to a manufacturing activity than a utility. Manufacturing was not allowed in a residential zone. Under this line of thinking, then, the Special Use Permit should not have been granted.

As I already stated, solar panel laws and renewable energy laws are fast-moving. While some of the state laws themselves have been around for over a decade, their practical effects are occurring now.

The attorneys at Desautel Browning Law are very familiar with solar panel laws and renewable energy laws. Call today to talk to one of our knowledgeable attorneys about how we can assist you: 401.477.0023.

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