March 18, 20240

Market volatility, savings incentives, increasing costs for energy, and advanced regulatory compliance can be daunting and confusing for property owners who might otherwise pursue construction of or partnership on a solar energy facility. At the State level, solar projects are currently incentivized and can significantly reduce an electric bill. For parties interested in purchasing “credits” associated with a solar facility, there exists a maze of advanced regulatory compliance. Working with an attorney who has experience is a must!

At the municipal level, property owners interested in installing solar panels must be sure to comply with the municipality’s legal restrictions. These restrictions include solar panel dimensions, placement, design, and siting. An attorney’s value in this context lies in providing advice to the property owner on how to satisfy the municipality’s terms and in working with experts to develop the best project design. An attorney experienced in advanced regulatory compliance will also present your project to the municipal decision makers. This presentation incorporates live testimony, under oath, during a public meeting before boards like the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Review, and/or Historic District Commission.

Most property owners are not savvy with explaining how their project demonstrates local advanced regulatory compliance, but the attorney will still offer their client’s testimony about the general nature of the project and why the project is necessary. The attorney customarily walks the client through a series of basic questions and answers. Then, the technical merits of the solar project are elucidated by designer, potentially as an expert witness. An explanation of advanced regulatory compliance from the designer/expert often satisfies the property owner’s burden of proof before the municipality.

As for larger scale ground mounted solar projects, the above overview of municipal requirements is not the end of the regulatory process. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (“RIDEM”) dictates advanced regulatory compliance through its stormwater and freshwater wetlands programs. RIDEM’s regulations and the state laws from which those regulations are promulgated require a showing of how the project will meet program goals, narrative criteria, and numerical parameters.

From a utility regulation perspective, the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (“RIPUC”) is the governing body responsible for permitting larger scale solar projects. There are several advanced regulatory compliance considerations related to the size and capacity of the project, the party purchasing the energy, and the interconnection with the utility, to name a few.

These larger scale ground mounted solar developments are customarily constructed on leased property. An experienced attorney can provide advice on the terms of those leases, to either the private property owner or to the solar developer.

Similarly, interest groups sometimes come forward to formally object to a solar project. The objections can be written or spoken. If the interest group hires an attorney well versed in advanced regulatory compliance, it is the attorney’s job to rebut the testimony presented by the project proponents, before municipal bodies, the RIDEM, and/or the RIPUC. Prior to representation at the hearing, an experienced lawyer will undertake research to determine if there are any legal issues associated with property ownership, deed restrictions, covenants, environmental issues, and/or any other barriers to project approval.

Solar project development is a new area of law, where an attorney capable of ensuring advanced regulatory compliance is a necessity. The lawyers at Desautel Browning Law understand the complexities and pitfalls of compliance.

To learn more about how to best manage and satisfy advanced regulatory compliance terms, call Desautel Browning Law at 401.477.0023 today.

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