BARRINGTON – In an overwhelming vote, but not without some passionate objection, residents at the Financial Town Meeting last night approved a plan to build a $2.4 million wind turbine, probably at the high school.
It took nearly an hour of debate for the proposal to pass, and the OK came only after the voters rejected an amendment that would have banned a windmill from the high school, but permit it anywhere else in town.
The $16.4-million municipal and capital budgets were approved without any questions. The $40.7-million School Department budget was approved after questions from just one resident.
The result will be a new tax rate of $14.45 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, 60 cents more than the current rate.
Only 168 of the town’s 13,548 registered voters attending the annual meeting.
Nearly all of last night’s debate was over the turbine, whose blade tips will sweep 328 feet into the air if it is built at the high school.
Supporters of the project have argued that the unit would save millions of dollars in energy costs over the 20-year life of the device.
Critics expressed their fears over safety and noise, saying there were better sites in town with more wind.
But Town Council president Jeffrey Brenner said the turbine is being proposed for the high school because it is, by far, the largest government consumer of electricity.
State law does not allow a turbine to be built in one location and the electricity to be consumed in another, he said.
“The high school site was the best site available for being financially feasible,” Brenner said. “We’re not here to blow money. We’re here to save money, and this is the site that will save money.”
That could change.
The General Assembly is set to vote today on legislation that would remove that restriction, allowing Barrington to shift the site to an area where the average wind speed is higher, yet still allow the high school or any other municipal building to take advantage of that energy.
State Sen. David E. Bates told last night’s meeting that if today’s proposal is enacted, “the electricity raised at the generator could be used at any meter owned by the town.”
Brenner also said it’s important to have the high school benefit from the windmill because the town might be eligible for state reimbursement of 30 percent for the project.
If the reimbursement is granted, “It would make a very good project an amazing project,” the council president said.
Even on the high school grounds, the site continues to shift.
Last night, James Bride, chairman of the Committee for Renewable Energy for Barrington, displayed a new map showing the turbine at a new location – between the football and baseball fields. People sitting in the football stands closest to the school would be able to look directly ahead and see the base of the turbine on the other side of the field.
The change was designed to make sure the turbine was at least 500 feet from any property owner.
Previous proposals have called for putting the generator farther west.
“I was really scared about what it would be like to sit on my deck and listen to the windmill,” said Cynthia Thomsen, of 28 Upland Way. After visiting the turbine at Portsmouth Abbey, she said, she was still opposed to having it at the high school.
“It is disturbing noise if it is 24 hours a day,” she said. “I believe my quality of life would be impacted in a negative way. I want to encourage my town not to hurry and put it at the high school because of the financial reasons. We don’t have to be the first people to have the wind turbine at the high school” when a more appropriate setting would be better.
She also expressed fear of what would happen if there were an accident. “We need to think about our children. If there was a catastrophic accident, we would all be very sorry that we put it right in the middle of our children.”
The School Committee endorsed the plan. Chairman Patrick “Buzz” Guida said the original location on the high school campus was moved to make it farther from the building itself, and the committee “did not feel the noise was something that would interfere with classes or the delivery of instruction.”
By C. Eugene Emery Jr.
Journal Staff Writer
29 May 2008