By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
MIDDDLETOWN, R.I. — The town recently passed one of the most restrictive wind-turbine policies in Rhode Island. Wind-energy advocates say the ordinance effectively prevents construction of turbines in one of the windiest regions in the state.
The rules are more stringent than standards in other communities, states and countries, as well as those recently recommended by state’s renewable energy siting board. The Planning Board opposed the ordinance, saying it didn't comply with the town's comprehensive plan.
Here’s what the Town Council approved Sept. 17:
Wind turbines can only be erected on farms.
Turbine height is capped at 120 feet.
The fall zone must be 175 percent of the height of the turbine.
The setback from property lines must be three times the height of the turbine.
No shadow flicker is permitted on surrounding properties.
Noise is capped at 30 decibels.
Turbines more than 100 feet high require environmental impact studies.
Town Council member Barbara VonVillas was one of two members to oppose the stricter ordinance. She said the current climate in Middletown and across in Rhode Island isn't favorable to wind energy. She pointed to the broken turbine at Portsmouth High School and the defeat of a wind proposal in Jamestown as local proof.
Eventually, VonVillas said, wind turbines should be as accepted as cell towers and other tall structures. “We have to do something about renewable energy so that people see turbines as something that’s not unusual," she said.
Middletown currently has three wind turbines. Two 55-foot-high turbines on a farm on Mitchell's Lane and 150-foot turbine at the Aquidneck Corporate Park.
Local wind developer and installer Timothy Hetland told the Town Council that the new ordinance will unfairly hurt smaller wind-turbine projects. “I don’t think it’s fair to everybody in this town — every business, every homeowner — to slam the door shut right now," he said.
Town Council member Bruce Long defended the ordinance, saying it focuses on “public health and risk.” “The decision we make must be ones that protect the people from their neighbors, not to protect people from themselves,” he said. “The only way to do that is to put in strict guidelines.”
Resident Manny Mello said National Grid provides the infrastructure and the best price. Everything else is about greed, according to Mello. “We’re having an argument over five years about turbines and solar panels and all it boils down to is how much money (people are) going to make.”