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Controversial wind turbine back on town’s radar

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A proposal for a wind turbine towering hundreds of feet in the air is back in the spotlight after Wind Energy Development, a company now operating as Green Development, indicated its plans to move forward with the application.

The company, reviving a 2016 plan, is proposing to build a 462.5-foot wind turbine on land owned by Ruth Pacheco at 810 Old Smithfield Road. The project is located approximately between Dowling Village and the Woonsocket Reservoirs and would require a special use permit to move forward under the town’s zoning ordinance.

The proposal is part of the same application receiving preliminary approval from the Planning Board in 2016 before strong opposition from neighbors brought it to a grinding halt. At the time, neighbors shared concerns about noise, environmental impact and development in a rural agricultural zone. A citizens group named COURT, or Conserve Our Unique Rural Town, succeeded in seeking a moratorium on wind turbines, with the Town Council later voting to ban them under the town’s zoning ordinance. A lawsuit filed by neighbors also succeeded in delaying the project, but was ultimately dismissed in Superior Court.

While the ban prohibits any new wind energy projects from coming forward, the current proposal is allowed as an existing application. The Zoning Board will hold a public hearing on the project next Tuesday, March 12, at 7 p.m. at North Smithfield Middle School.

“They’re submitting the original application with the original Planning Board approval,” explained Building Inspector Kerry Anderson.

At 462.5 feet, the proposed wind turbine is about 430 feet taller than the maximum 35-foot height currently allowed by the town zoning ordinance, so the developer will have to seek a dimensional variance in order to move forward to the next stage of the application. The developer also needs a special use permit to construct a wind turbine in a residential agricultural district.

According to Anderson, the developer revived the old application about two months ago. If the proposal clears the Zoning Board, the project would still require final approval by the Planning Board before construction could begin.

The hearing is the latest chapter in a years-long effort to construct a wind turbine in the area behind Dowling Village. Prior attempts fell apart in 2010 and again in 2013 amid disagreements between investors and with the town.

Green Development is no stranger to renewable energy, having recently constructed seven wind turbines near the Johnston Central Landfill. The company is also the same one proposing a solar farm of more than 40 megawatts off Iron Mine Hill Road that’s still making its way through town approvals.