NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s a project that’s been discussed for years – creation of a wind turbine on land near Dowling Village along Eddie Dowling Highway.
This week, the idea edged much closer to reality as Wind Energy Development LLC sought a special use permit for creation of a 465-foot-high structure on property owned by Ruth Pacheco.
The Planning Board gave its blessing to the proposal at an April 7 meeting, unanimously voting to recommend that the Zoning Board issue the permit.
That’s when abutters were first made aware of the plan.
“Not a lot of people know about it. Nobody was given notice,” said Maureen Souza, whose mother owns a parcel adjacent to the land where the turbine would be built. “It’s about 46 stories high.”
If approved, the turbine would become one of the tallest structures in Rhode Island, as longer blades would be needed to catch electricity-generating wind in the area, which are generally less strong than coastal gusts. But proponents say the 87-meter-long blades would create minimal noise in the area and that shadows would be relatively insignificant.
The same company obtained a special use permit in 2010 for a different turbine, but the project got hung up on a technicality according to Town Planner Robert Ericson, and the permit ultimately expired.
A public hearing on this new proposal, scheduled for the Zoning Board’s Tuesday, April 26 meeting, was canceled.
The turbine would stand on an 800-square-foot base at 836 Old Smithfield Road in a rural residential zone on a portion of Pacheco’s 50-acre farm. The company, located in North Kingstown, would lease the space and earlier this month, the property owner testified that the project would help her family to keep the land as open space.
“It’s kind of a way of keeping agricultural land alive because otherwise, that would probably be sold,” said Ericson.
WED has reportedly been involved with installation of 10 turbines in Coventry and the replacement of a broken turbine in North Kingstown.
Plans submitted by DiPrete Engineering show that the site is within a half-mile of Booth Pond, Woonsocket Reservoirs One and Two, and Eddie Dowling Highway.
The turbine itself would be developed by Invensys, a German Company that produces structures using permanent magnets and no gear boxes.
According to maps submitted by WED, in the worst case scenario, noise from the turbine would be at 55 decibels, the same level as a normal conversation. The noise from nearby Route 146 is estimated at around 68 decibels.
“Basically, nobody is going to be disturbed by the sound,” said Ericson. “The location of this really minimizes the impact at anything around it.”
Mark DePasquale, owner and CEO of WED has testified that turbine would be expected to kill three birds a year, and that without improvements, it would last between 30 and 35 years.
But first, he’ll need the Zoning Board to issue a special use permit and grant a dimensional variance for the turbines tremendous 465-foot height.
Once the hearing is rescheduled, it will be residents’ only opportunity to weigh in. The plan does not need to go before the Town Council but will return to Ericson for signature before the company seeks a building permit.