By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
NEWPORT, R.I. — One of Rhode Island's largest energy users has dropped plans for a wind farm and is instead moving toward solar energy. Naval Station Newport says its wind project — 12 sites on the western shore of Aquidneck Island had been scouted — has been “placed in a strategic pause” because of the fiscal climate, regulatory and environmental issues, and community concerns.
The effort to install wind energy on Navy-owned property began in 2009. A technical report and wind study from 2012 suggested up to seven turbines as tall as 400 feet could be suitable for Coddington Point at the Naval War College and an underground tank farm near Redwood Road in Portsmouth.
Community meetings were held and several studies had been conducted that addressed noise and shadow flicker, impacts on views and environmental issues.
The Navy is instead moving forward with solar projects.
“We are continuing to explore alternative-energy options here at the base and are excited about some solar studies that are currently underway, but I have nothing concrete to put out on those projects yet as the studies are, alas, still being worked on,” said Lisa M. Woodbury Rama, public affairs officer at Naval Station Newport.
The wind project was initialed by a 2005 federal act requiring reductions in energy costs at military facilities. An initial estimate indicated that wind turbines would cut the Naval station’s $12 million annual energy bill by 26 percent. In 2011, the Navy set a goal of 50 percent renewable-energy use at all of its onshore sites by 2020.
Several sites at Newport Naval Station were considered suitable for renewable energy because of the property's multiple contaminated areas. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Naval Station Newport reached out to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to conduct a wind study. The report concluded that turbines could produce 9 megawatts of electricity.
Twelve sites were considered for turbines on the 1,399 acres of Navy-owned land on Aquidneck Island, but the NREL report eventually suggested two sites as the most suitable. Other studies examined impacts the turbines would have on birds and bats, marine mammals, views, noise, shadow flicker and impacts on archeological surveys.
“This project is not just about the cost of electricity, it will enable the Navy in Newport to become a leader among Navy installations nationwide in reaching the Secretary of the Navy’s shore-based energy goals as well as the President’s strategic goals,” Capt. Douglas Mikatarian, commanding officer of Naval Station Newport, wrote in a December 2012 news release.