PROVIDENCE – The state Division of Planning is working to develop statewide guidelines for the siting of land-based wind turbines by early summer, with final adoption set for October.
Kevin Flynn, director of the division, told a special legislative commission on renewable energy on Wednesday that the guidelines would provide a framework for cities and towns that are struggling with questions raised by dozens of proposals across the state for the installation of wind turbines. Municipalities trying to determine appropriate sites for turbines must deal with issues related to noise, light flicker and setbacks from nearby properties, among others.
The General Assembly asked the Division of Planning to draw up siting guidelines in 2007, a year after Portsmouth Abbey installed the first wind turbine in the state. Since then, four other large turbines have been put up – another in Portsmouth, one in Middletown and two in Warwick.
In response to a question from Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, chairwoman of the Small Business Renewable Energy Task Force, Flynn said a staffing shortage in his office prevented work on the plan from getting under way until now.
“I know the legislature asked us to do that, but the legislature is not responsible for staffing,” he said. “This is something we’re working very diligently on, right now.”
Still, Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, Middletown, questioned the tight time line.
“It does seem very aggressive,” she said. “What hasn’t happened in four years is going to happen in four months?”
Questions about where wind turbines should be located came to the fore last week when the Town of North Kingstown called for a statewide moratorium until guidelines can be drawn up. Two large turbines that are being permitted in North Kingstown have stirred vigorous objections from some people in the town.
The Division of Planning has formed a special advisory group to help develop the guidelines. The group includes representatives of towns, including North Kingstown and Portsmouth, and officials from the state Coastal Resources Management Council, the Office of Energy Resources and the Department of Environmental Management. Industry participants include Alteris Renewables and People’s Power and Light. The first meeting is Thursday.
The advisory group will look at what has been done in other states and will make recommendations on some of the issues that have vexed cities and towns, such as allowable heights and potential fall zones. The group may also come up with a model ordinance that communities could choose to adopt.
Flynn acknowledged talk of pursuing something more comprehensive for guiding land-based wind energy that would be similar to what the CRMC did with the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, which used years of scientific study to select the best areas to develop offshore wind energy.
The Division of Planning’s current work could be a predecessor to a long-term zoning plan for land-based wind, he said.
“I don’t know what the final outcome will be, but there is active discussion going on,” Flynn said.