A group of Aquidneck Island residents has assembled the first organized opposition to Governor Carcieri’s plan to develop a large-scale wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.
The group’s name –– the Rhode Island Alliance for Clean Energy –– might be mistaken for an organization that supports wind farms. And its leader –– Anthony G. Spiratos –– is a young Newport real-estate developer who was once a Carcieri supporter and campaign donor.
“The key word is ‘was,’ ” Spiratos said in an interview. He no longer supports Carcieri, he said.
“When [Governor Carcieri] implemented this plan, I saw the flaws in it. And nobody in the Republican Party upstate is listening.”
The flaws, as the alliance sees it, are listed on the group’s Web site at www.saveourstateri.org.
The arguments are similar to those presented by the people who oppose the Cape Wind project, a proposal to build a similar-sized wind farm in Nantucket Sound: that a massive wind farm would hurt tourism by detracting from the natural beauty of Newport and other coastal areas; that it would devastate recreational sailing and the fishing industry; that it would pose a threat to national security; that construction would be noisy; and that residents who live nearby may become ill from “wind turbine syndrome” –– an illness the group says leads to headaches and nausea among those who live within three miles of the turbines.
The group depicts wind-farm developers as wealthy, out-of-state companies that are working with Carcieri to build an offshore project for their own gain.
And it depicts the governor as moving forward with his plan, regardless of what residents want. “Governor Carcieri wants to do this; all without your consent or your vote!,” the site says.
The group suggests that the governor supports a wind farm because of donations he received from executives of Energy Management Inc., the company behind the Cape Wind project.
Rhode Island’s campaign finance database shows that Carcieri received three campaign donations from EMI employees totaling $1,250 between 2002 and 2006.
In an interview, Spiratos was asked if he believed that these donations could have pushed the governor to support a wind energy farm.
“Well, yeah,” he said. “I strongly believe he’s been influenced by the donations. I can only say he’s gotten campaign contributions. [The companies] have lobbied him and the General Assembly to do this.”
The campaign records also show that Spiratos himself donated $1,050 to the governor’s campaign between 2002 and 2006.
“These accusations about the governor’s renewable-energy agenda would be comical if they weren’t so ridiculous,” said Jeff Neal, a spokesman for the governor.
“Going forward, the construction of any large-scale renewable-energy project will go through a rigorous environmental review and permitting process,” Neal said. “While we understand that reasonable people can disagree on the importance of harnessing renewable energy in Rhode Island, we should be able to debate this subject without making false accusations about the governor’s plans or his motives.”
The group’s arguments contain many factual errors, said Lefteris Pavlides, a professor of architecture at Roger Williams University, and a supporter of large-scale wind-energy projects.
For example, the group says that an offshore wind farm would have more than 300 turbines. That has never been proposed, Pavlides said. The proposal made by Carcieri calls for about 105 turbines.
The group also describes the wind-farm project as being paid for by $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies. “This thing is totally privately financed with no subsidies whatsoever,” Pavlides said.
The alliance points to the problems associated with a wind farm built in the 1970s at Altamont Pass, Calif. The relatively small turbines there had fast-turning blades that proved to be deadly to several types of birds. Andrew Dzykewicz, the governor’s chief energy adviser, said wind energy technology has improved dramatically since that farm was built. “No one would build a wind farm like Altamont Pass today,” he said. “A lot of that stuff is irrelevant.”
Today’s wind turbines are much higher and the blades turn much slower, which has virtually eliminated bird kills, he said.
Spiratos, 25, made headlines in 2002 when he came close to winning a seat in the state legislature while still a college student. He was the Republican candidate challenging the incumbent, Rep. Paul Crowley, to represent Newport’s District 75. Spiratos lost by only 135 votes out of 4,009 cast. At the time of the election, Spiratos was a 19-year-old student at Bristol Community College.
After the election, Spiratos said he remained active in politics, eventually becoming chairman of the Republican City Committee of Newport. But he says he left the Republican Party over the wind farm issue.
“I’m not going to stand with a Republican caucus which seeks to destroy the community in which I live in.”
His family has had a long-running dispute with the state’s Coast Resources Management Council over a 30-foot-wide swatch that runs from Tuckerman Road to the ocean in Middletown, adjacent to the Spiratos family waterfront property. CRMC has ruled that the property is a public right of way, citing documents as far back as 1897. The Spiratos family maintains that it is private property. The Superior Court has upheld the CRMC ruling, but Spiratos said the issue is still not resolved.
The name Rhode Island Alliance for Clean Energy expresses the group’s support for alternative energy, Spiratos said, including small, residential wind turbines that sit atop a homeower’s roof.
His Web site contains videos that show inventors and home hobbyists who claim to have found more efficient ways of generating electricity using small wind-turbine devices.
“We’re not against wind,” he said. “We wanted to offer solutions to our energy problems.”
Spiratos said the alliance now has about 300 members. He declined to name them because he said they had not yet chosen to be publicly identified.
The group’s Web site lists three board members: Gary Tiner, a Newport software developer and another Carcieri supporter; Joseph Burke, an independent film producer and small-business owner in Newport; and Stephanie Synnott, a Middletown resident who has more than 20 years experience in the health and fitness industry, the site said. Synnott is Spiratos’s sister.
Spiratos said the group is just beginning fundraising efforts. Already, it has raised $10,000 –– half of which was Spiratos’s own money, he said. The group’s goal is to raise $5 million, an amount Spiratos said will likely be raised within a month.
“We have a lot of people coming forward who are really upset,” he said. “A lot of people have businesses that also are property owners; the yachting community is very upset and will donate a substantial amount of money to the cause.” He added that fishing and lobster industries also oppose an offshore wind farm.
Spiratos is among the property owners. His family has long owned Sea View Villa, an apartment complex in Middletown that has panoramic views of Rhode Island Sound.
By Timothy C. Barmann
Journal Staff Writer
5 May 2008
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