It’s been the talk around town for the past month and, on Jan. 4, it’ll get its well-deserved attention as the North Kingstown Planning Commission holds its first meeting of the new year on the subject: wind turbines.
Anticipating a large crowd, the town moved the 7 p.m. meeting to North Kingstown High School’s auditorium. The topic has only really taken off in the past month among residents, but to understand the saga behind North Kingstown’s pending wind turbines, one must go back to the start of the debate nearly four years ago.
The push toward of wind energy in North Kingstown began in November 2006 when Roger Williams University professor Eleftherios Pavlides began contacting municipalities about wind energy systems. Less than two years later, on July 7, 2008, the North Kingstown Town Council approved its first wind energy ordinance.
For nearly a year, North Kingstown saw no takers. It wasn’t until local developer Mark DePasquale came along that the topic returned. DePasquale, owner and CEO of Atlantic Building & Realty along with Wind Energy Development LLC, was building a new cluster subdivision called North Kingstown Green off Ten Rod Road and, aside from building new, high-end homes in his development, he wanted to add something a bit more exotic – a wind turbine.
DePasquale’s interest caused the Town Council to re-examine its year-old wind energy ordinance, as more information and knowledge on this alternative energy source had come to light in that time.
What followed was a year of research, studies, visits to turbines throughout New England, public meetings and hearings, leading to the adoption of a new wind energy ordinance on Sept. 27.
According to Planning Director Jon Reiner at the September meeting, the new ordinance is more comprehensive than its predecessor. Under the old ordinance, setbacks only had to be the length of the turbine’s blade, plus 35 feet. (For instance, the setback for a 300-foot turbine with 100-foot-long blades would only have to be 135 feet.) Now, setbacks are a one-to-one ratio from the base of the tower to the height of the nacelle – the top of the wind turbine’s tower, not to the tip of the blade. The new ordinance nixes any height restrictions on turbines, which were previously capped at 400 feet.
The ordinance also allows applicants to bypass a special use permit, issued by the town’s zoning board. Reiner said this measure will help “streamline” the process.
Eight days later, North Kingstown approved its first wind turbine – a 427-foot, 1.8 megawatt Vestas V100 – which would become Rhode Island’s tallest turbine. It’s not on town or school property like Portsmouth’s two turbines, nor is it looming over Route 95 like the one at New England Tech in Warwick.
It’ll be in someone’s backyard.
North Kingstown’s Soon-To-Be First Turbine
While many men want gazebos, in-ground pools and monstrous grills in their backyard, Mark DePasquale wants to have Rhode Island’s tallest wind turbine. Why?
“I want to do this so that when people say to me ‘I don’t want one of those in my backyard. Would you?,’ I can say ‘Yes I would and I do. Come see it,'” he said.
DePasquale, who grew up in family construction businesses like R & W Realty and DePasquale Brothers, began his foray into wind energy after a plea from his then nine-year-old daughter.
“My daughter wanted me to put up a turbine for every tree I took down [during construction],” he said. “I had been following wind energy for awhile, but that’s really where all of this started.”
Approved on Oct. 5, DePasquale said construction on the town’s first turbine won’t begin until the late summer or early fall of 2011. DePasquale said he is waiting for newer updates and technology for Vestas to come out before building. The updates will make the turbine safer and quieter, he said.
The 427-foot turbine, from base to the tip of the blade, will only be a foot shorter than the Bank of America building in Providence, the state’s tallest building. Its blades alone, at 165 feet, will be longer than the height of New England Tech’s 156-foot turbine that overlooks Interstate 95.
The height is necessary. In preliminary assessment of wind mapping in Rhode Island, the Prov Plan and Wind Power Rhode Island Project calculated North Kingstown’s average wind is between 5.8 and 6.2 meters per second at 70 meters – about 278 feet. Winds at Portsmouth’s High School are 6.2 to 6.59 meters per second, by comparison.
“If I went with the Portsmouth High School one here, it would not be economically feasible,” he said.
Though it’ll be almost 100 feet taller than Portsmouth’s, DePasquale promises his turbine will be “a lot quieter.”
According to the town’s new ordinance, a wind turbine’s noise cannot exceed 50 decibels at the property line. Fifty decibels is comparable to the sound of a dishwasher in an adjacent room.
DePasquale anticipates the turbine will generate 4.5 million to 5.5 million kilowatt-hours per year, or enough to power more than 400 homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Excess energy would be fed back into the grid – potentially becoming a lucrative side business for a turbine owner – pending a decision by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission regarding net metering, in which National Grid would buy back the excess electricity. (According to National Grid spokesperson Deborah Drew, it’s currently not clear how net metering will be utilized in cases such as these.) The income would help offset the $3.4 million purchase a price of a Vestas V100, which does not include the construction and land costs.
As for current and future residents of the North Kingstown Green subdivision, all are on board to become neighbors to Rhode Island’s tallest wind turbine, according to DePasquale, who notified anyone interested in building or buying a home at the subdivision of his, even inviting them to Zoning Board, Planning Commission and Town Council meetings to learn more about it and follow the process.
Roger Darois, who is considering a home at the development, was initially unsure. Concerned by the noise factor, he visited Portsmouth’s turbine at the high school.
“At the distance from where my house would be, the noise didn’t bother me,” he said. “I should be about 600 feet from the turbine. The sound would be negligible.”
For one future neighbor, the nearby train tracks were more of a concern than the turbine.
“My wife and I had a little bit of apprehension about the train,” said Michael Palangio, who is purchasing a $650,000 home in the neighborhood. “That was much more prevalent in our decision than the wind turbine. The turbine was much more of a positive for us. I think it looks like a fantastic idea.”
Palangio and the other neighbors will also get an added incentive in the form of $131 a month from DePasquale. DePasquale would expect to pay a property owner about $40,000 to $60,000 annually to lease land for a wind turbine. With this turbine going in his backyard, leasing is not necessary, but it hasn’t stopped him from forking over the cash.
“Instead of just putting it in his pocket he’s giving it to his neighbors instead,” said David Darlington, spokesman for Wind Energy Development LLC.
While the soon-to-be neighbors of North Kingstown’s first turbine are on board, the same can’t be said for what could be the town’s second turbine. Located at Stamp Farm, the turbine would be the identical twin to the North Kingstown Green turbine. The Zoning Board denied the turbine proposed by Bill and Carol Stamp, along with Wind Energy Development, in August due to its size. Following the passage of the new ordinance, the Stamps are taking another go at it.
At the North Kingstown Town Council’s meeting on Dec. 13, nearly 100 residents came out to oppose the proposed turbine. From shadow flicker to setbacks to infrasound, they have a lot of concerns to air Tuesday night.