Turbine gone with the wind? Ocean Gate residents certainly hope so
Credit: By Paul Mulshine, Star-Ledger Columnist | www.nj.com ~~
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Kate Ranuro is a retiree who lives in the borough of Ocean Gate. It’s on the Toms River not far from the Barnegat Bay.
If you like sailing, it’s a beautiful place to live.
But not if you like peace and quiet.
The town of densely packed bungalows has two giant windmills located in its center. The noise they make is like a clothes dryer with an old sneaker and some loose change rolling around in it.
I first heard that description from a resident 10 years ago when the first of two industrial-strength wind turbines was installed near the Borough Hall.
Ranuro and her neighbors invited me to come to town to get an earful of the racket the first wind turbine created. They hoped to forestall the construction of a second unit, but Mayor Paul Kennedy insisted on going ahead with it despite the noise complaints.
When I spoke with him then, Kennedy said officials would look into modifications that would keep the noise down.
On Friday morning, they found such a modification. But it wasn’t the one they wanted.
Ranuro first became aware of it when her husband Fred went out the door to go to the supermarket.
“He said, ‘Oh my God, the turbine threw a blade and it’s still spinning,’” Ranuro recalled.
Municipal workers soon arrived and shut down both turbines. That gave the Ranuro family the peace and quiet they’ve been missing out on for the past decade. But the outcome could have been tragic.
A photo Ranuro took shows a blade of 15 feet or so in length lying on a lawn within a couple of feet of a street frequented by kids walking to and from school. By the looks of it, the blade could have crushed a car, never mind a kid.
“A lot of people are frightened by what happened,” Ranuro told me.
They’re not getting any help from borough officials.
“They’re pretty secretive around here about things,” she said.
Kennedy didn’t return my calls. So I put in a call to James Fry, a retired engineer and wind-power advocate whom I’d interviewed back in 2009 when he was advising the borough on the turbine project. I asked Fry whether the borough intends to remove both turbines, as Ranuro and other neighbors desire.
“All I know is they’re doing an analysis and doing the checks and they haven’t made a decision,” Fry said.
That decision should be literally a no-brainer – which is what you’d be if you were walking along and a blade like this knocked you on the noggin.
That’s the opinion of Myron Ebell, an energy expert with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington.
“Putting a wind turbine, even a small one, in a densely populated area is stupid,” said Ebell.
Ebell said this was far from a unique occurrence. After a wind farm was built on a hillside in his native Oregon in 2013, a 100-foot blade separated and came flying toward a couple who were sitting on their porch.
They escaped unhurt, Ebell said, but that was a classic example of why these things should be sited far from areas of high population – not to mention areas of high wealth.
He noted that when it came to a proposed wind farm off the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod, environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. made a “not in my back yard” argument against it.
Ranuro said the residents of Sea Girt made similar arguments to stop construction of a wind farm near that wealthy enclave in Monmouth County. But the residents of Ocean Gate were too busy living their lives to forestall the turbine construction, she said.
“They’re not in the same socio-economic group,” Ranuro said. “They didn’t have the ability to put their money up to defend their rights.”
That didn’t stop borough officials from putting their money up to build the turbines. The cost was $325,000, partially offset by a $102,000 grant from New Jersey’s Clean Energy Fund.
I ran the story that by a state senator who has been a leading proponent of alternative energy. Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex County sponsored legislation that classifies wind and solar installations as an “inherently beneficial use.”
That makes it easier to get zoning approvals for wind turbines. But after I told him about the flying blade, Smith noted that most the wind farms he’s seen are located in isolated areas.
“I think it’s a legitimate issue,” he said of the objections from Ocean Gate residents. “It’s definitely worth a discussion.”
It certainly is.
But don’t hold it under a wind turbine.
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