BARRINGTON – A town-owned site at the end of Legion Way has become the prime candidate for Barrington’s wind turbine after Governor Carcieri’s office announced that it would allow net metering legislation to become law today.
The law allows a community to produce wind power at one location yet, in effect, use the electricity at other town-own buildings.
“That’s something we’ve been waiting for,” said Town Council president Jeffrey Brenner.
Under the old law, communities had to consume the power at the place they generated it, severely restricting where the turbines could be economically located. That’s why officials originally said they needed to erect the windmill at the high school, easily the town’s largest consumer of electricity.
The high school proposal has sparked opposition from many neighbors. The new site, at Brickyard Pond, is more remote and is believed to have stronger winds.
At Monday night’s Town Council meeting, four of the five members – John T. Lazzaro was on vacation – said they prefer the Legion Way site.
But the high school isn’t out of the running.
The town must first get approval from the Internal Revenue Service, which was originally told by the town that the turbine would be at Barrington High. The IRS has offered the town a $2.1 million interest-free loan for the project.
Brenner said the IRS should be receptive. “Verbally, they told us there is no problem with it” and were excited that the turbine might be moving to a better location, he said. This week, the town hopes to get that commitment in writing.
And if the electricity generated by the turbine is dedicated to powering school buildings, the state Department of Education may cover part of the costs. That would be “the best possible financial outcome we could imagine,” he said.
The council president said the next step is to issue a request for proposals to see if a turbine can be built within the $2.4 million limit that has been set by the council.
News that the windmill might be relocated did little to stem debate at Monday’s meeting, where residents spent more than two hours talking about the issue.
Most said they supported alternative energy, but made it clear that they didn’t want a turbine near them, insisting that it is too dangerous to put it near homes and the high school, and objecting that not enough research has been done to show it will save the town money.
Arlene Violet, a lawyer, former attorney general and ex-talk show host who lives near the high school, offered a long list of objections and warned that the town may be poised to buy “a three-legged horse.”
She said wind speeds need to be measured directly for at least six months, not estimated from computer models because “at least 20 to 25 percent” of the simulations are inaccurate.
She asserted that turbines can interfere with radar, microwaves, TV reception and pacemakers. She said the spinning blades could spark epilepsy, nausea and vomiting.
Violet also contended that the turbine project could put poisons into the ground, and that the project requires an extensive environmental impact study, including an analysis of the effect it would have on fish.
Brenner asked for documentation backing up those claims.
Violet said it was available on the Internet.
Resident Gregory Rueb of Middle Highway said there are so many wind turbines in operation, there’s little need to exhaustively research every aspect of Barrington’s.
“There’s no reason why each town should have to recreate the wheel,” he said.
He also cautioned that “anyone can go on a Web site and find whatever information suits their fancy. There are a lot of people putting information on the Web that is not well documented.”
Nonetheless, the fear level among some neighbors is so high, one woman said last night, “I don’t think I want it anywhere in town.”
Henry “Bud” Violet, Arlene’s brother, said environmental groups were guilty of “hypocrisy” for not opposing the Barrington project, and he characterized the turbine as an “ugly 300-foot monstrosity that will save a paltry $180,000 a year” in energy costs for the town.
“One person’s monstrosity is another’s kinetic sculpture,” said Councilwoman Kate Weymouth.
Other council members, including June Speakman and James Schwartz, said they would be willing to have a turbine in their backyard.
“All energy requires tradeoffs,” said Schwartz, who lives closer to the high school than the other council members.
Ainsley Judge told the group that she goes to school at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, which has a 90-foot-high turbine on the playing field.
“We play soccer there every day. It’s perfectly safe,” she said, explaining after the meeting that the windmill is about 20 feet from the field.
The Barrington turbine would be 328 feet tall.
Resident Ann Strong said that when she went to Germany, there were windmills throughout populated areas. “They’re not 1,000 feet away. They’re not even 500 feet away. They’re right next to the houses,” she said. “I think the high school is a great place for the wind turbine.”
Violet was undeterred. “The newest science is you don’t place them were people could be injured.”
Critics of the high school site have complained that the turbine was proposed with little public notice.
In fact, it was repeatedly covered by The Journal and the Barrington Times, with the Times publishing a front-page rendering of what the turbine would look like before it was approved by voters at the Financial Town Meeting in May.
Speakman said there have been regular reports to the Town Council over the past six to eight months, video of all the council meetings is available on the town’s Web site, and the weekly meetings of the Committee for Renewable Energy for Barrington, which drafted the proposal and disputes most of the objections raised by neighbors, have been advertised and open to the public.
“The high school site has not been a secret at all,” she said, and any suggestion that it has been a secret “is offensive to me.”
By C. Eugene Emery Jr.
Journal Staff Writer
9 July 2008
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