By CHRIS SHEPPARD
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN—The North Kingstown Town Council was unanimous in its consideration of whether to allow the placement of wind turbines in North Kingstown.
Although a few council members pledged to stay open to the idea, a general consensus was reached by the council to hold a public hearing on August 15th on whether to repeal its wind ordinance altogether.
The current wind ordinance, passed in 2010, requires wind turbine applicants to receive a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Review. If the ordinance is repealed, it would mean that for the foreseeable future no turbines will be built in North Kingstown. This would be a victory to residents opposed to construction of the turbines, and a loss for applicants like Wind Energy Development.
Fifteen people attended Monday night’s special council meeting on the ordinance, with most in attendance local residents who have been actively trying to stop the town from approving the installation of the turbines.
Several members of the local resident group No Residential Wind North Kingstown (NRWNK) were among those in attendance, with member Jeff Zucchi stating that he was satisfied with the council’s decision.
The local organization, he said, found about 1,000 residents who actively opposed the installation of the turbines, fueling a town discussion on the matter.
“Alternative energy is a good thing,” Zucchi said, “but today’s wind turbines are enormously inefficient and pose hazards to people when they are placed on land.”
Council member Michael Bestwick said until further research on the environmental impact of turbines is conclusive, he did not endorse the placement of turbines on any of the proposed locations.
“We should see if it really does work,” Bestwick said. “And wait for other towns to see what they do.”
Other council members were in agreement.
“We haven’t heard from the 26,000 residents, only two groups that are interested. It doesn’t make sense to approve something that is not workable.” council member Charlie Stamm said.
The council expressed concern that allowing the installation of wind turbines would require the town to alter its extensive noise ordinance, posing an annoyance and potential hazard for residents. Town Planning Director Jon Reiner said that an exemption would allow for turbines that create more noise than is currently permitted in the town.
One type of noise, called flicker noise, may have possible health implications that are “not currently entirely understood by scientists”.
Zucchi said that, according to General Electric’s website, wind turbines are typically placed 850-1000 feet away from homes and one of the biggest issues raised by the NRWNK is that the Stamp Farm location is within 2,600 feet of nearly 150 homes.
The council shared residents’ concerns that the locations were too close to neighborhoods.
Flicker noise, proximity to residential areas and flying ice were among the potential hazards considered by the council. According to turbine opponents, other problems include safety issues related to the possibility of a falling turbine and a possible reduction in property values if a turbine is installed.
“People don’t want wind turbines,” council member Chuck Brennan said. “I’m representing people who don’t want wind turbines in North Kingstown. “It’s not a big business in this state to start with.”
On June 29, the council voted to extend its moratorium on new wind-turbine applications for an additional 90 days. The council’s Monday consensus marks a step towards curtailing the possibility of turbines being installed. Reiner said that in two years, a planning commission at the state level will release its research findings on the impact of turbines, leaving open the possibility of a future discussion.
After a lengthy discussion, the council made its decision.
“It doesn’t make the industry happy, but it makes most of the people we are dealing with right now feel better,” council president Liz Dolan said.
Brennan added that residents have “done a really great job, educating themselves, educating us.”
Zucchi said that his organization will press on and that he hopes the ordinance will be repealed.
“Even if it’s two years from now, if we have to come back here, we will,” he said.
The council will vote on whether to repeal the 2008 wind ordinance at the next regular town council meeting, scheduled for August 15.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This version replaces some mistakes in the article published in our July 14th, 2011 edition.