NORTH KINGSTOWN – The town is asking the General Assembly to impose a one-year moratorium on land-based wind turbines throughout Rhode Island so that statewide siting guidelines can be developed.
On Jan. 10, the Town Council passed a six-month moratorium on new wind turbines to allow time for North Kingstown to create a new wind-energy ordinance. The move came after two proposals for large turbines stirred vigorous opposition in town.
Town Manager Michael Embury said local officials were meeting to discuss the ordinance when they decided it made more sense to wait for the state to complete an effort to create uniform standards for wind turbines.
Partly, Embury said, it’s an issue of statewide consistency; partly, it’s a question of money for towns struggling with tight budgets.
“Each local community should not have to bear the very large expense of hiring consultants, establishing scientific and/or non-scientific parameters, which can be more easily addressed by the state,” said a news release from the town.
But imposing a statewide moratorium would harm the clean-energy industry in Rhode Island, said David Cohen, regional director of wind business for Alteris Renewables, a company active in the Northeast.
“You can’t just stop the industry without fully assessing the situation,” said Cohen.
Questions have been raised about standards for wind turbines elsewhere. In Massachusetts, a bill was proposed last year that would limit local control of how turbines are sited, but the legislation died. In Connecticut, a state council was handed authority over nearly all proposals, but some groups are chafing at the loss of local control.
The state Division of Planning has been working on standards that would relate to noise, fall zones, height and other issues. Kevin Flynn, associate director of the division, is supervising the project and expects it to be completed this summer. Individual cities and towns could then choose whether to adopt the standards.
“They would not be imposed on anyone,” he said.
Five wind turbines have been installed in Rhode Island – two in Portsmouth, one in Middletown and two in Warwick. The most recent, at the Shalom Housing apartment complex in Warwick, was completed Tuesday.
At least three dozen more are in various stages of planning. A group of East Bay communities is proposing to put up as many as 10 turbines in Tiverton with a total capacity of 25 megawatts. Naval Station Newport just embarked on a study to develop up to 9 megawatts of wind energy, which would require several turbines in Newport or Middletown. There are also proposals in Providence, Narragansett, Jamestown, Charlestown, Johnston and North Smithfield.
Although objectors have out come against some proposals, citing noise concerns and damage to views, the opposition has been more strident in Charlestown, North Kingstown and Johnston. The turbines being considered in those places are much larger than projects that have been developed elsewhere.
The largest turbine in the state, at Portsmouth High School, stands 336 feet tall at its highest point. The maximum height of the turbine at Shalom Housing is 156 feet.
In Charlestown, Whalerock Renewable Energy is proposing two turbines that would each be 410 feet high. Wind Energy Development wants to build one 389-foot tall turbine in North Kingstown and one that is 427 feet high. In Johnston, the company would put up a pair standing 496 feet.
David Darlington, spokesman for Wind Energy Development, said state guidelines could be helpful to a developer if they are fair, and towns are willing to abide by them.
“Rules done right are great for developers because they know what the rules are,” he said.
State Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, said she would consider legislation to regulate wind turbines, but not a moratorium.
“There’s a lot we can do without just shutting the gate,” said Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown.
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, chairwoman of the legislature’s Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force, agreed and said a moratorium would be bad for business.
Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt, R-North Kingstown, also a member of the task force, opposes the proposed North Kingstown turbines and said he’s a strong proponent of state guidelines. He said it’s too soon to determine whether a statewide moratorium is a good idea and has not talked to other legislators about it.
Cohen, of Alteris, said it would be easier for his company to navigate one set of rules in Rhode Island than many municipal ordinances. But at a time when state regulators are reassessing how turbine owners sell electricity to the power grid, a moratorium would be particularly damaging.
“I think everyone needs to slow down and look at particular projects and their suitability,” Cohen said. “Turbines are not appropriate everywhere. But the smaller machines are less imposing.”
The wind turbine at Shalom Housing, which Alteris installed, is one of the smaller ones. The Northwind machine is considered a community-scale turbine as opposed to utility-scale turbines that can be three times the size.
It was funded through a $1.4-million federal grant that also paid for other green initiatives at the nonprofit complex of 154 apartments for the elderly and disabled near Route 95. The turbine will save an estimated $25,000 a year in energy bills.
Bonnie Sekeres, executive director of Shalom, said the Warwick City Council unanimously supported installation of the turbine. At two public hearings before the council, no opponents stepped forward, she said.
On Tuesday, when a crane lifted the blades into place, putting the final touch on the turbine, tenants watching from nearby apartments left no doubt about their opinion of the new machine.
“When the blades went up, they all cheered,” Sekeres said.
WIND TURBINES IN RI Proposals that received state or federal funding since 2009
East Bay Energy Consortium, Tiverton, 8-10 turbines
Hodges Badge Company, Portsmouth, one turbine
Sandywoods Farm, Tiverton, one turbine
Genesis Health Care, Middletown, one turbine
St. Antoine Residence, North Smithfield, one turbine
Coastal Housing Corporation, Portsmouth, one turbine
SLA Realty, Exeter, undetermined number of turbines
Narragansett Bay Commission, Providence, three turbines
Department of Environmental Management, Narragansett, one turbine
Turnpike and Bridge Authority, Jamestown, one turbine
City of Providence, up to two turbines
Town of New Shoreham, one turbine
Town of Jamestown, one turbine
Town of Narragansett, up to two turbines
North Kingstown School Department, one turbine
Town of North Smithfield, undetermined number of turbines
City of Warwick, undetermined number of turbines
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