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Town drops plan for wind power project

WESTERLY – The people of Bradford spoke loudly and the Town Council listened, dropping plans to erect two wind turbines on town-owned property in the rural village.

About 80 Bradford residents gathered at the Bradford Citizens Club to learn about the proposal for two 450-foot-tall turbines, one at the Bradford Preserve and one off of Old Carriage Road. The vast majority of residents in attendance said they did not want the turbines in their village.

Some of the residents accused proponents of the project of trying to stick it in Bradford after plans for the Town Forest and other sites lost momentum. Bradford resident Peter Bonk said proponents were trying to “shoehorn” the wind turbines in when there were no good sites anywhere in the town.

“You’re trying to finesse what is really not a very good location. This is not West Texas,” Bonk said.

Councilor Christopher Duhamel, one of the primary proponents of the plan, disagreed, saying an additional yearlong study period would reveal whether Westerly was suitable for wind turbines. By the end of the night Duhamel acknowledged that wind energy currently lacked sufficient resident support.

Wind Energy Development LLC of North Kingstown was selected in December as the council’s energy partner for wind energy. The company promised to save the town $14 million or more over the course of a 20-year lease through electricity it sought to generate with the two turbines. The project was intended to meet the town’s municipal electricity needs excluding power used by the school system.

Bradford residents questioned the motives behind the project, the noise generated by wind turbines, and possible health hazards. Others complained that the turbines would cause a reduction in property values.

Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said the council had studied various alternative energy methods for eight years in a quest to move the town off its reliance on fossil fuels and in the direction of using renewable energy sources. He shook off accusations of living on the beach and said he was open to conducting further study after hearing the concerns raised by Bradford residents.

“No one is trying to shove this down anybody’s throat,” Cooke said.

Councilor Kenneth Parrilla repeated an earlier theme, saying his research revealed a number of studies suggesting various health problems associated with wind turbines. He also noted that there were no definitive results from the studies.

Councilor Richard Anthony questioned the economic feasibility of the project as proposed by Wind Energy Development. He praised the dozens of residents who attended for getting involved.

“It is your land and it is your responsibility. You better participate. Far be it from me to make a decision on a proposal like this. We need to hear from you,” Anthony said.

After the meeting in Bradford, the Town Council drove to Town Hall to consider a proposed power purchase agreement. Wind Energy asked the council to approve the agreement, saying it was necessary for the company to perform the next round of testing to determine wind and other atmospheric conditions.

Seth Handy, a lawyer hired by the council to review the agreement, delivered a report on changes made to the proposed agreement and negotiations he conducted with the company. Based on the projections of industry analysts, Handy said the proposed agreement and rates “should be a good deal for the town.”

Ultimately councilors remained unswayed or were moved by the loud statement from Bradford residents. When it came time to seek a consensus on the issue, council President Diana Serra found there was no resolve to continue discussing or studying wind.

Anthony said he would prefer to focus on ways to reduce the town’s energy expenses with less risk and a more immediate payoff.

As the evening wore on Cooke suggested dropping the wind proposal but said he was glad an alternative energy proposal was discussed and considered.