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Hopkinton council hears pros, cons of proposed ban on wind turbines

WOOD RIVER JCT. – The Hopkinton Town Council heard community discussion Monday on a proposal to amend the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance to prohibit wind turbines.

The amendments, proposed by Town Council member Sylvia Thompson, would effectively eliminate the consideration of wind energy projects under the comprehensive plan and would prohibit the turbines from all zones in town.

Hopkinton does not currently have any wind turbines, and there are no laws prohibiting them. However, the Hopkinton Conservation Commission has supported the installation of wind turbines in an effort to support local farmers.

Thompson asked the Planning Board on Aug. 7 to provide an advisory opinion on the amendments to the council. On a 3-2 vote, the board rejected the proposed ban on wind turbines.

Thompson told the council, meeting at Chariho High School, that since turbines are not mentioned in the zoning ordinance, there was nothing prohibiting a developer from installing one.

“The only way to stop them is by having a district use table that has all ends, that they are not allowed in any zoning district,” she said.

Harvey Buford, chairman of the Hopkinton Conservation Commission, said he was worried about climate change and mentioned that July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth by scientists.

“As you know, this is an unnecessary vote tonight,” Buford said. “This vote is an attempt to shut down any consideration of wind energy in Hopkinton forever. This vote is about doing our part, or not, to solve climate change.”

Many residents expressed apprehension about the effects that wind turbines would have on their community, especially in terms of the health impacts.

Eric Bibler, founder of Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning, supported Thompson’s proposed amendments and gave the council members materials on the matter.

“This issue is not going to go away. What we’re looking for, what we’re seeking, what we sought from the Planning Board, was an acknowledgment that this is a public hazard and an unacceptable environmental risk in this place, and that we do not want to consider these on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

He mentioned the health impacts of increased noise and shadow flicker and also noted environmental impacts such as wildlife fatalities and and adverse effects on bat habitats.

“We’re indulging in the proponents of the idea of installing wind turbines anywhere in Hopkinton or anywhere on a farm, with the idea that they won’t cause any adverse impacts, really indulging in a dangerous fantasy,” he added.

Lu-Ann McCormick said she was annoyed that she had to come to the meeting in order to defend her home.

“We’re tired of trying to defend our property,” she said. “How is it that my property has to be put up and actually be affected? My health, welfare, and my property have to be affected by something that somebody else wants to do on their land.”

Henry Wright, president of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, lives on the Exeter-West Greenwich town line and said he supports renewable energy sources.

“Renewable energy provides a reliable source of income for farmers for the length of the contract,” he said. “Solar allows land to be available 20 years in the future and possible for agriculture use again. No permanent development has replaced it. Wind allows the surrounding land to be used right from the start.”

The town has offered support to farmers through the Farm Viability Ordinance, in which farmers could have at least 1 acre of solar energy systems, depending on the size of the farm.

Thompson said she would like to find others ways, like the Farm Viability Ordinance, to support farmers instead of having to go ahead with wind turbines.

Former Town Council member Gary Williams reminded the council of its responsibility to make a well-informed decision.

“The dangerous game I see is making a decision without doing your homework [and] without doing your research. This is not a decision made by the internet. This is a decision that should be made by all of you.”

The council will make a final decision on the proposed amendment at its Oct. 7 meeting.