NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Town Council is poised to place a ban on wind turbines throughout town at the urging of a citizens’ group formed in opposition to a proposed structure on Old Smithfield Road.
A second reading of a proposal to permanently prevent the structures from being built in town is scheduled to come before the board next week.
But Town Planner Robert Ericson and some members of the Planning Board expressed concern that the decision could affect economic development, and questioned if the town’s zoning ordinances should prohibit what residents can do on their own property for their own use.
The preference for banning the structures entirely comes, in part, at the urging of Conserve Our Unique Rural Town Inc., a non-profit group formed last April in reaction to North Kingstown-based Wind Energy Development Inc.’s proposal for a 465-foot turbine on a property owned by Ruth Pacheco.
An organized effort by neighbors to halt the structure led councilors to place an emergency moratorium on turbines, preventing any new applications from moving forward until the town had developed more comprehensive laws. The moratorium does not apply to WED’s proposal, but will affect the future of wind energy development in town.
When the ordinance development board took up the issue last month, they noted that the law they were drafting would make it nearly impossible to erect a turbine, and questioned if it would make more sense to simply not permit the structures on the town’s use table. The later idea gained support of C.O.U.R.T., and both concepts were sent before the Planning Board for review.
“After a lot of study and research, the ad hoc ordinance committee thought that it was the best option,” said Paul Soares, chairman of the Conservation Commission and a member of the committee.
Soares noted that 13 out of 39 communities in the state already have a ban on turbines.
“It doesn’t seem reasonable that we should even want them in northern Rhode Island,” Soares said.
Planning Board members were less certain.
At a meeting Sept. 1, Ericson noted that wind turbines could potentially aid in preserving farmland in North Smithfield. According to draft minutes from the meeting, he also suggested the ordinance could cause problems with economic development.
Planning Board Chairman Dean Naylor “argued that people should be able to do what they want with their land,” according to an unapproved copy of the board’s minutes.
Planners ultimately found the detailed ordinance consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan, but noted it was “onerous.”
On the subject of banning turbines on the use table, Naylor repeated his concerns.
That idea was found inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan based upon its wording, which referred to “generation of wind energy,” with the Planning Board members noting the phrasing was unclear and should be changed to “commercial electric generation via wind turbines.”
Planning Board members also felt that the council should add another line to the Use Table for “onsite net metering” for residents that might want wind energy for personal use.
More than 50 people attended a public hearing before the Town Council on both proposals last week.
C.O.U.R.T. President Sharon Mayewski said she took issue with an assertion by Ericson that “turbines don’t collapse,” saying she found at least three cases where they had.
“They do collapse,” she said. “These are real issues. I’m just asking you to protect our town.”
Mayewski also disputed the idea that turbines preserve open space and farmland.
“It does not restrict the owner from installing it and selling it the day after,” Mayewski told the council.
Ericson has stated that he will end his tenure for the town in November, when Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton leaves office.
The meeting served as a public hearing for both potential means to address the turbine issue: the detailed ordinance, and the use table change.
But councilors only voted to consider it “first reading” of the use table change, an indication that a complete ban of turbines could be on the horizon.
Of the Planning Board’s recommended edits to that proposal, Councilor Paul Zwolenski said, “All of those changes could come at the second reading.”
Zwolenski said he does not personally support the idea of net metering due to the size needed for turbines to be an efficient means of energy creation in northern Rhode Island.
“I have yet to see a person come out and say they want it,” the councilor said.
The council is slated to take up the use table for possible final passage at their next meeting on Monday, Oct 3.
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