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Officials eye ordinance on wind turbines

WEST WARWICK – Following the recent uptick of interest in wind energy development in the state the town of West Warwick has decided to update its wind and renewable energy ordinances in the coming months. Councilman John D’Amico sponsored a discussion with the town council this week indicating that the planning and zoning boards needed stronger guidelines on which to base their decisions about turbine placement in the town.

“We are moving to be a green community and certainly I am for that,” D’Amico said. “I think it’s important to be using renewable and alternative energy sources. We currently have an ordinance and it couldn’t anticipate these 400-foot turbines that have gone before zoning in the past year.”

He said he would like to consider implementing a moratorium as a temporary pause on wind development projects while the town works out the ordinance.

“We just need to have better requirements and specifications in place and not solely base it on individual applications,” he said.

Attorney Al DiFiore said there are currently two ordinances, one for green energy as a whole and the other pertaining specifically to wind turbines. There are conflicts between the two ordinances which make it virtually impossible for the zoning board to approve a project. The existing wind turbine ordinance was proposed by the former town planner and town manager. In 2012 the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources issued siting guidelines for wind turbines, but DiFiore said they weren’t very specific and did little for guiding municipalities on related policy.

There are three main factors to take into consideration when deciding on the placement of turbines, including public safety, community impact and environmental impact. The new guidelines indicate that municipalities have the right to hire an expert at the cost of the applicant to determine whether the proposed location is a good fit.

“I think the guidelines that have just been put out will help us tremendously,” DiFiore said.

He requested more time to study the guidelines to bring forward proposed revisions. As of right now the town does not have any pending applications for wind energy development projects.

Town Manager Fred Presley said that implementing a moratorium was not necessary because of the conflicts in the ordinances presently. He urged members of the council to visit the town’s own wind turbines in Coventry. West Warwick decided to lead the way in renewable energy in May of 2015 when voters approved $18 million in bonds to fund three turbines, a major cost-saving decision in the long run.

“The biggest issue with wind turbines is people don’t know about them,” Presley said. “A lot of the concerns brought up at these meetings are not factual.”

The updated guidelines include information about common problems associated with wind turbines. The document lists recommendations and suggestions on how local governments can limit issues for their residents. For example, proper placement of turbines is key in reducing issues of noise and shadow flicker. Locating the turbines within appropriate setbacks and buffers can reduce these issues, and local planning and zoning boards can now make better decisions about the placement of turbines based on this information.

There are collectively 21 land turbines between Portsmouth, Middletown, Warwick, Narragansett, Providence, Tiverton, North Kingstown and Coventry. In 2016 Deepwater Wind LLC completed the construction of the country’s first offshore wind farm with five 30-MW turbines.