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Is this Narragansett’s future?

This is a fable of what could happen should wind turbine development go unchecked. It in no way represents current plans for development around Narragansett and Wakefield:

I’m a time traveler. I live in the elegant Narragansett of the 1890s. It’s a town of charm, casinos, laughter, prosperity, a magnificent beach, fine and ordinary stores, everyday people and the swells – the long-skirted women on the arms of their blue-blazered companions, patrolling the walkways. There are yachts and sailboats, casinos and huge hotels – life, spark, character.

From time to time, I visit future Narragansett just to see what will become of the town. When I dropped in on the year 2040, I was met with the body-buzzing mind-numbing howl from thousands of wind turbines rising from Narragansett Bay and its shorelines as far as the eye could see. It was as if the masts of all of time’s ghost ships were rising from the bay, marching toward me with some evil deed in mind. A spider web of transmission lines over the town dimmed the noontime sun to dusk on the ground. Narragansett Beach was split in two by a huge black conduit pipe that channeled electricity from the bay to a distribution station in Wakefield. The state had condemned a swath of land from the beach through Narragansett, Sprague Park and Shadow Farm to Main Street in Wakefield, so that BlowHard Wind, the winning bidder on a wind power project, could build larger distribution, assembly and support facilities. They built a huge campus of ugly, monumental, glitzy administration and assembly buildings that stood out from South County’s beauty like a carbuncle on a hog’s snout.

Property values plummeted around the industrial complex. I noted that tar paper and corrugated tin-roof apartments for music-deafened students had been built on undesirable land underneath the turbine posts in the town. Wind towers were built near residential property, spawning a host of lawsuits that were slowly wending their way through the courts.

Some of the local gossips informed me that BlowHard was granted a monopoly on all of the energy supplied in the state, and that its rates were significantly higher than in those areas where there was competition. The company’s profit margin was twice that of similar companies, in part because of its monopolistic pricing. Blowhard was owned by a huge, prosperous, global energy hedge fund that had over $5 billion dollars to fund its future expansion. Its sole objective was to make money for its owners and executives. Did I mention that the chairman took home $20 million dollars in total compensation last year, or that Blowhard’s political action committee influenced every election from town to state?

The state, having learned much from its video game venture, to appear progressive in attracting such a “leading edge” venture and desperate for even the pittance of employment that the project could provide, gave BlowHard a half-billion dollar interest-free loan from the state pension funds, to be amortized over 200 years, not to mention the tax breaks granted.

I naturally overheard the questions repeated time and time again: “What’s in it for us? Why go through all of this stuff for nothing? What did we get for the initial and periodic disruption and use of our land? Nothing.” One or two million dollars. Wow. Gee whiz. This didn’t even cover the town’s expenses on the project for the first couple of years, and BlowHard pays no town tax.

After listening to all of the arguments – pro and con – it seems that wind power was thought to be a good and economic thing. I gather the country had to get out of its oil-guzzling ways. But the developments should benefit the citizenry in the form of lower energy prices and property improvements, not inconvenience and visual pollution.

The whole venture was terminally sad. It did nothing for the town. It was too complicated, too disruptive, too frantic, too opaque, too ineptly negotiated.

C. Davis Fogg

Narragansett