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Middletown council keeps moratorium in effect, proposes small-wind workshop

A lengthy discussion in Monday night’s Town Council meeting resulted in no change in the town’s moratorium on wind turbines—for now.

Much like the blades of a turbine, Town Council’s discussion of small-wind devices went round and round at Monday night’s meeting, with the end result being agreement, but little action. The Town Council did not change the existing moratorium on all wind-turbine applications, but it did agree to take up the topic of small-wind turbines in March or April 2012, after two key reports are released, and to hold a public workshop at that time. The council also asked the Town Administrator to develop a survey to gauge townspeople’s interest in wind turbines.

A discussion of small-wind turbines was on last night’s agenda following the Nov. 7 Town Council meeting, when members voted 5-1 to extend the town’s nine-month moratorium (March 7-Dec. 7, 2011) on all wind-turbine applications for six more months, until June 7, 2012. The lone dissenting voice had been Councilor Barbara Von Villas, who has publicly stated that she favors exempting small-wind turbines from the moratorium. “We must provide some relief for individuals and small businesses who are not seeking to ruin scenic views or bother their neighbors inordinately; they just want to exercise the option – within appropriate restrictions – to save energy and become environmentally proactive,” Von Villas wrote in a letter.

At Monday night’s meeting, however, the suggestion to exempt small-wind from the moratorium never made it to a motion, as other council members expressed concern over lack of solid information. “I think it has been clearly stated that every turbine installed has an impact of some sort, and our ordinance is fuzzy on the wording regarding noise, shadow, and flicker,” said Councilor Bruce Long. “We need to make those determinations before we start issuing permits.” Councilor Antone Viveiros expressed concern about the wording regarding the decibel levels that would be permitted, and Councilor Chris Semonelli expressed his opinion that the provisions in the current ordinance are vague in general.

In the town’s current wind-turbine ordinance, four categories of wind turbines are defined: rooftop-mounted; small wind (mounted on 55-foot pole or shorter); medium (mounted on pole 55-120 feet high); and large (mounted on pole 120 feet and higher). For all turbines, the current ordinance requires an applicant to get a special-use permit, a process that involves several rounds of permission, including a presentation to the Zoning Board of Review. An applicant is required to prove that the turbine would have no significant adverse effect.

Councilor Richard Cambra suggested separating rooftop-mounted and small wind from the other categories, to make progress toward allowing wind turbines in town. “I think it’s important to make one small step instead of continuing to go in circles on this and not getting anywhere.”

Council President Art Weber guided the discussion toward choosing a date for a public hearing about small wind. It was agreed to wait for two reports—one, due at the end of this month, from Rhode Island’s Statewide Planning department with guidance for municipalities on siting turbines; and the second, due March 31, 2012, from the University of Rhode Island and the Renewable Energy Siting Partnership (RESP).