It was expected to be a standard Town Council meeting, discussing Quonset Business Park and transfer development rights with Exeter. Instead, the Dec. 13 meeting ended with a surprise 50-minute public discussion about a proposed wind turbine at Stamp Farm on South County Trail.
It’s the second time the Stamp Farm turbine has come up. In August, the Zoning Board rejected the initial proposal because of the tower’s height – 427 feet to the top of the blades. However, after the passage of a new wind energy ordinance, which bypasses the need for a special use permit from the Zoning Board, farm owners Carol and Bill Stamp – along with developer Wind Energy Development LLC – are taking another shot at installing the turbine, which would sit 431 feet from South County Trail.
Though the first attempt saw opposition, it pales in comparison to the group forming this time around.
“We can’t take these down once they’re there,” said Jeff Zucchi, a Rollingwood Drive resident who says who represents 400 to 500 residents opposing the turbine, during the Dec. 13 meeting. “You can’t un-ring the bell.”
The dozen or so who spoke brought up concerns of setbacks, shadow flicker, ice throw and wind turbine syndrome. The town’s new wind energy ordinance, only a month and a half old, took a beating as well, with residents calling it too permissive. Zucchi ended his comment with a plea to the council: Put a moratorium on all further wind turbine projects.
The group of residents learned of the Stamp Farm turbine two weeks earlier and had banded together to halt its approval. An abutter who received a certified letter about the proposal sent out letters to more of his neighbors.
“Only a couple of us got a letter on our street,” said Long Lane resident Robin Wilson. “People across the road from me didn’t even get the letter.”
After researching wind turbines and their impacts on the Internet, Zucchi, Wilson and about 20 others began canvassing the neighborhood to spread the word and get feedback.
“Virtually everyone I talked to didn’t know about it or heard through word of mouth,” said Wilson. “The thing that’s truly upsetting is that this process has been going on for six months and really no one in the neighborhood knew.”
One abutter who had been following the six-month-long process was Matt Richardson, who lives at the adjacent property, Hemsley Tree Farm in Exeter. Richardson had followed the first Stamp Farm turbine proposal after receiving a certified letter over the summer. Since then, Richardson said he’s attended “eight to nine four-hour meetings,” joking that the amount of time he’s spent in meetings is equivalent to a part-time job.
“I was in shock at how big this was going to be,” he said.
For Richardson, the 427-foot turbine’s height is excessive. Aside from the size, Richardson is concerned about the setbacks, which for a 427-foot wind turbine is 262 feet.
“Even cell towers have a setback of 1 to 1.5 times the height, and they don’t move, don’t make noise and don’t cause flicker,” he said.
What began as a group of 20 residents has grown to 100 to 150 households, Zucchi said. Wilson anticipates the group will grow as the word gets out. Along with the moratorium, the group wants to see the new wind energy ordinance re-examined.
“The Planning Commission, we believe, was misguided,” said Zucchi during the Dec. 13 Town Council meeting. “The developer helped them come up with the new ordinance.”
Though Wind Energy Development LLC owner Mark DePasquale and his team of experts – including rTerra and ESS Group – had aided the Planning Commission in crafting the ordinance, Town Planning Director Jon Reiner said the ordinance “was not dictated by Mark. The Planning Commission weighed his information no differently than any other information they were able to dig up.”
DePasquale, a lifelong Rhode Islander who has lived in town for more than a decade, said he is not looking to anger fellow North Kingstowners.
“He goes to the grocery store down the road and sees all these people there,” said employee Tom Valenti. “He doesn’t want to anger anybody.”
Bill Stamp, owner of Stamp Farm and 34-year president of the Rhode Island Farmer Bureau, doesn’t want to rattle anybody’s chains, either.
“I don’t like antagonizing my neighbors,” he said. Though the idea of the turbine has bothered many abutters, the longtime farmer sees wind energy as the possible key to agriculture’s survival.
“To survive, we have to change the ways we do business almost constantly now,” Stamp said. “These turbines on farms, they’re a growing movement.”
DePasquale said he’s been targeting local farms as sites for his turbines. The Stamps were an obvious option for DePasquale who has known the family for more than 35 years.
“These farmers are now selling their farms for open space,” said DePasquale, who leases the land needed for a turbine. “They’re having a tougher time now and we’re trying to supplement them with these lease payments of $40,000 to $60,000 per year. It’ll hopefully keep farming in New England.”
Though Stamp said he has traditionally bought American-made products like Ford and John Deere, he is not deterred by the Danish-made Vestas turbine he might sporting on his farm. Stamp said the turbine, if erected, will not interfere with his farming because he’ll be able to farm right up to the base of it. Overall, he said, the end result is worth the trouble.
“We have a tremendous energy problem in the United States of America,” he said. “If we don’t do something now, it’s going to get much worse. I thought it was the right thing to do on our part.”
Stamp, DePasquale and the residents of North Kingstown Green – where a twin turbine has been approved and is scheduled for installation this year —are won over by the turbines, but many still aren’t.
The group of residents opposing Stamp’s proposal want answers to such questions as why North Kingstown’s ordinance asks for setbacks that are only the height of the nacelle (the distance from the ground to the top of the tower, not including the blades). What if one of these turbines falls over? And what about shadow flicker and infrasound?
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