WESTERLY — A municipal wind power project hit some mild turbulence recently but remained on the path to possible fruition.
Two members of the Town Council raised questions about the proposal to erect two 420-foot turbines in a wooded area of the Bradford Preserve near Old Carriage Road. Councilor Kenneth Parrilla said research he performed on the Internet alerted him to theories that turbines can cause a range of health concerns. Councilor Richard Anthony questioned the economic feasibility of the project, wind power technology in general, and whether the town would assume a financial risk.
Wind Energy Development LLC, the North Kingstown firm selected in December by the council to serve as the town’s “wind energy partner,” hopes to erect a meteorological tower at the preserve and install other equipment to test the wind and other environmental variables. The company has asked the council to approve a power purchase agreement to signal the town’s continued support for the project before the test equipment is installed.
After an unusually barbed exchange between councilors, they voted unanimously May 14 to authorize Town Manager Steven Hartford to negotiate an agreement with the firm but to bring the agreement back to the Council before signing it.
Plans call for Wind Energy Development to invest $10 million in the project. The company has promised to sell electricity, generated by the turbines, to the town at a rate significantly lower than those historically charged by National Grid. Plans call for the town to purchase enough power to meet the needs of all municipal facilities, excluding school buildings.
Aside from the cost of purchasing the power, the town is not expected to incur other costs. However, the company has said it would charge the town about $15,000 if the town decides not to proceed with the project if it gains approval by the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Review. If the project stalls for “valid reasons” the company would not charge the town, said Eric Offenberg, Wind Energy Development engineering developer.
Parrilla said his research alerted him to concerns that inaudible sound produced by wind turbines can cause health problems for people who live near turbines. He said the health problems are headache, irritability, sleep problems, depression and migraine. Children can suffer additional problems, he said.
“It scares the living daylight out of me if this is true,” Parrilla said.
Parrilla’s comments sent Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr., who said he has studied wind and other renewable energy sources for eight years, into a state of exasperation.
“I’ve never heard of this in all my life. I could go on line too and find out where space aliens landed,” Cooke said
Parrilla shot back that he would not put up with “abuse” from Cooke, who then apologized for getting “personal.”
Cooke then went on to say that he believed the use of fossil fuels caused a host of health problems. He urged the Council to move forward with the wind project, saying it was an opportunity for leadership and for the town to take the lead in renewable energy in the state. Additionally, Cooke said the project would allow the town to budget a firm figure for its electric costs each year.
Councilor Campbell Field cautioned against putting too much stock in studies discussed on the Internet. Parrilla, eventually, tossed some of the printed material he had toward Field and snapped “read it.”
Offenberg said that the studies Parrilla was referring to dealt with larger “wind farms,” developments with more than two turbines. He also said that the information in the studies was theoretical and had not been proven.
Anthony said that with federal tax credits that had been available for the developers of wind power projects and the falling price of natural gas he wondered if wind was an economically viable alternative. He also had a message for Cooke.
“I don’t care to be first. I want to be right,” Anthony said.
Ultimately Anthony said he had no problem with allowing Wind Energy to move forward with testing at the site but he was not prepared to commit the town to the project without additional information.
Councilor Christopher Duhamel said he supported the project because it provided renewable energy at no cost to the town.