HOPKINTON – The Town Council approved two motions at Monday’s meeting that will effectively prohibit the installation of industrial wind turbines in all zones throughout the town.
Two text amendments, proposed by councilor Sylvia Thompson on Aug. 19, amend the town’s district use table and the comprehensive plan.
Both amendments were approved by a vote of 3-2, with Thompson, Scott Bill Hirst and Sharon Davis supporting the motion and council President Frank Landolfi and Barbara Capalbo opposed.
There are no industrial wind turbines in Hopkinton, but the Conservation Commission has supported their installation, on a limited basis, to support the preservation of farmland and other open space and to encourage the production of renewable energy.
In addition to the Conservation Commission, several farmers and members of the Hopkinton Land Trust attended Monday’s meeting hoping to persuade the council to defeat the motion. Also present were residents who supported Thompson’s motion.
Henry Wright, president of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, said wind turbines would make it possible for cash-strapped farmers to hang on to their farms.
“We need to keep land productive,” he said. “If land is not productive, it’ll end up going to the land trust or the state and bring in absolutely no tax money, support no one. Your taxes will go sky high and people will start selling more land for housing development.”
Thompson acknowledged that wind energy facilities are not currently in the town’s district use table, and are therefore not permitted by right, but she said she wanted the town to send a message to prospective wind developers that their projects would not be welcome.
“The reason I asked for this was hopefully to make it clear to developers and anybody who wanted to have wind turbines in town that they’re not welcome at this time,” she said. “Anyone can come in at any point, or any council in the future could change things, but for now, I just don’t think the technology’s there and I think that in time, it will get better and better … it worries me. I don’t know if it will ever be able to happen in town.”
Council Vice President Scott Bill Hirst said he had struggled with his decision, but in the end, he felt that he had to support Thompson’s motion. Hirst also lamented the divisions that had been created in town during the debates surrounding solar and wind energy.
“Being on the Town Council is a serious responsibility and it’s one that pits you against friends, it pits you against people who you agree with a lot of the time,” he said. “I’m going to support the prohibition that Sylvia proposes.”
Capalbo opposed both amendments, citing a recent Planning Board opinion that noted that they would be unnecessary because wind turbines were not permitted uses in the town.
“I think, globally, nationally and especially locally, we need to address renewable energy in all its forms,” she said. “We don’t have to agree to them all, but I believe that we are obligated to listen. I don’t believe that this request is necessary. I agree with the Planning Board that also says that it is unnecessary, because it is already banned in town. It is redundant and redundancy cannot become a political weapon.”
Davis cited residents’ opposition to wind turbines and her duty as a council member to respect her constituents.
“Although we were elected to represent the Hopkinton residents, we should not get caught up in thinking we always know what is best for them,” she said. “If the residents show up at Town Council meetings, write emails and plainly let us know that they are against wind turbines and want them banned in Hopkinton, then I believe we should vote accordingly.”
Landolfi, voting with Capalbo, warned that developers and landowners would still be free to apply for zoning amendments to build wind turbines.
“It still does not, I repeat, does not prevent a developer or landowner from petitioning the council or the town for a zone change and a district use text amendment,” he said. “It does not do any of that. That can still happen. It does a send message, I get it, but it still does not ultimately prevent what I think folks want to prevent.”
Both Capalbo and Landolfi conceded that the town was not ready to welcome wind turbines now, but Landolfi said Thompson’s motion had only served to further divide a community that remains fractured over the solar energy issue.
“In the end, introducing this prohibition further divided the community unnecessarily,” he said. “What we all need to do is find common ground on any issue, whether it’s climate change or whatever, and build on that.”
In other business, council members unanimously approved the reappointment of Harvey Buford as chairman of the Conservation Commission.
Some residents had objected to Buford’s support of wind and solar energy projects, but his supporters, who included members of the Hopkinton Land Trust, backed his continued leadership of the commission.
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