A few short months ago, Westerly was exploring the feasibility of installing two wind turbines in hopes of generating enough electricity to power the town’s municipal buildings, with the exception of schools, while saving the town $17 million to $20 million over 20 years.
The town had selected Wind Energy Development of North Kingstown as its partner in this “green” initiative and the Town Council had settled on a Providence attorney with expertise in these kinds of projects to review all aspects of the deal.
But the deal never came to fruition. Residents of the Bradford section of town, where the Town Council had recommended locating the two 450-foot towers, made it known to the council that they didn’t want these towers in their neighborhood.
They talked about the potential unnerving affects of noise and “shadow flicker” generated by the turbine’s blades and the likelihood that the towers would lead to reduced property values. The complaints were voiced at a special council meeting held in Bradford, much to the Town Council’s credit.
It’s hard to fight the urge to latch onto technologies that will help get us off such heavy dependence on foreign oil, yet we have been leery of wind power initiatives. We can’t help but feel that if wind power were the right fit around here, the private sector would be clamoring to erect turbines the way communication companies pushed cell tower applications in the past.
The town of Portsmouth to our east went for a wind turbine plan and voters even approved a $3 million bond in 2007 to locate a tower at Portsmouth High School. The town’s Economic Development Committee proposed the turbine, did the research and made the deal. The tower went up in 2009 and started generating electricity and money for the town. But the heart of the system, the gearbox, failed this past June, leaving the tower dormant and the town with a nearly $1 million estimate to replace the gearbox.
The proponents can’t be blamed for the malfunctioning part, but they are being taken to task for how the deal was made. We feel the Portsmouth scenario should serve as an example should any town in our region pursue a wind turbine or any other alternative energy plan, such as Westerly’s plan for solar power. At what point does the town take sole responsibility for whatever equipment is installed and its maintenance? Are their guarantees?
The Portsmouth Town Council last week directed the EDC to review the entire scenario to determine how such a state of affairs could be avoided in the future.
As noted in the related opinion piece (see link, above left) by a principal in the Portsmouth project, hindsight is always 20/20. We should watch this case closely in hopes of being able to avoid studying a project more closely with hindsight than we do with foresight.
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