NORTH KINGSTOWN – The drive for renewable energy in Rhode Island is colliding with neighborhood values in North Kingstown, where a battle is raging over a 427-foot wind turbine proposed for farmland along Route 2.
Opponents of the turbine object to the size, location and possible safety hazards of the structure.
“These are power plants,” said Jeff Zucchi, who represents a group called No Residential Wind NK. “These things are designed for deserts and oceans. Ours are going into residential areas.”
David Darlington, a spokesman for Wind Energy Development, founded by Mark DePasquale, said Stamp Farm is in one of the few areas in North Kingstown where there is enough wind and open space to make a turbine feasible. Darlington said putting wind turbines closer to developed areas reduces the costs of sending power to National Grid.
Both sides of the issue expect several hundred people to attend a Planning Commission hearing in the North Kingstown High School auditorium on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Of the two turbines proposed by Wind Energy Development, one has already been approved by the town: DePasquale’s North Kingstown Green housing development on Ten Rod Road. Darlington said that the turbine is scheduled to be built in late 2011, although site work will begin earlier.
The second turbine, proposed for Stamp Farm on Route 2, just north of Schartner Farms, was rejected by the Zoning Board of Review. The Stamp Farm turbine is at the center of the current controversy.
Both the Wind Energy turbines would be 427 feet tall and rated at 1.8 megawatts. By comparison, the turbine at New England Institute of Technology on Route 95 is 156 feet, and the one at Portsmouth High School is 336 feet.
In fliers and e-mails, opponents of the turbines raise several issues concerning the turbines.
•The proposed setback, or distance between the turbine and adjacent property lines, is insufficient in case a turbine should fall or break.
•The presence of such large turbines would change the character of the area and reduce property values.
•Problems such as noise, “shadow flicker” (alternating light and shadow caused by the moving blades) and ice being thrown off the blades have not been adequately addressed.
In a full page newspaper ad, Wind Energy addressed some of the objections. The ad said the turbine is located 431 feet from Route 2, farther away than the setback required in the town’s wind ordinance.
The ad said noise would be restricted to 50 decibels as measured at the property line, and that the turbine will be located to minimize flicker. And the ad cited a 2009 report that found wind turbines have a neutral impact on residential property values.
Beyond questions about the turbine itself, opponents charge that the town changed the rules in the middle of the game.
Under a 2008 wind ordinance, turbines such as the one proposed for Stamp Farm required a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Review.
On Aug. 10, 2010, the Zoning Board unanimously rejected the Stamp Farm turbine. Wind Energy Development is appealing that decision in Superior Court.
In 2009, the Planning Commission began work on a new wind ordinance, adopted by the North Kingstown Town Council on Sept. 27, 2010
The new ordinance removed the 400-foot height restriction on large wind turbines and eliminated the need for a special-use permit. Authority over approving wind turbines now rests with the Planning Commission. In November, Wind Energy Development resubmitted its Stamp Farm turbine application.
Turbine opponents point out that Wind Energy Development founder DePasquale was among those who had input in creating the new North Kingstown wind ordinance.
“If someone wants to say that Mark [DePasquale] participated in the process, that’s absolutely true,” Darlington said. But, he added, so did opponents of the proposed Stamp Farm turbine.
Shortly after the council approved the new wind ordinance, Richard Schartner, owner of Schartner Farms, next to Stamp Farm, sued the town in Superior Court, alleging that the new ordinance conflicts with the North Kingstown Comprehensive Plan.
Under the new town wind ordinance, a turbine’s minimum setback is determined as the height at the center of the turbine’s rotor. In the case of the Stamp Farm turbine, that would be 262 feet.
Although Wind Energy Development said in its ads that the Stamp Farm setback would be 431 feet, turbine opponents say that is not enough.
Darlington said the turbines will cost between $5 million and $6 million each.