By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — At least one Rhode Island farm hopes to harvest more than just corn. The owners of Stamp Farm in Exeter recently testified in support of a bill that would allow it and other farms to erect wind turbines.
Several farmers, most of whom are involved in the ongoing wind turbine siting dispute in North Kingstown, debated the bill at an April 11 hearing. William Stamp Jr. and William Stamp III, who helped get the bill drafted, said wind turbines deliver badly needed revenue to farmers. Rhode Island farms, they said, are constrained financially by a lack of land, escalating costs and short growing seasons.
Wind turbines, they said, provide leasing fees that help keep a farm in business while protecting the land from development and maintaining the state’s rural character.
“The primary purpose of this bill is to help their income,” said Al Bettencourt, director of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau. Farmers earn some $5,000 a month leasing land for a wind turbine, he said. Like cell towers, wind turbines raise initial objections due their appearance. But “I think over time people will get used to it,” Bettencourt said.
An animated Stamp Jr., said a single turbine like the one at the North Kingston Green supplies electricity for 500 homes. “It’s taking a resource and uses it as something that is productive and useful for the community,” he said. “This is energy for everyone.”
Opponents of the bill argued that wind turbines diminish neighboring property values. The fall zones and setbacks outlined in the bill are also too short, they said. Richard Schartner of Schartner Farms supported North Kingstown’s 2010 moratorium on wind turbines. He’s in the process of buying land near Stamp Farm.
“I feel it would be a huge detriment to my land value if the turbine went up," Schartner said.
Matt Richardson, co-owner of a hops farm next to Stamp Farm, objected to the setback requirement.
The state Department of Administration (DOA) submitted a letter of concern to the House committee regarding the bill. The state is still drafting statewide standards for wind energy siting.
Wind turbine developer Mark DePasquale lives 220 feet from the 411-foot-high turbine he owns and built in the North Kingstown Green. DePasquale and his company, Wind Energy Development LLC, were denied a permit to build a turbine at Stamp Farm by the town's Planning Board in 2011. The North Kingstown Green turbine was approved prior to the moratorium.
At the April 11 hearing, DePasquale noted that the recent controversy surrounding three turbines in Falmouth, Mass., shouldn't be compared to newer turbines. The Falmouth turbines, he said, were built too close together. Health complaints and concerns about falling turbines are unfounded, he said.
“Turbines don’t fall over,” DePasquale said. Wind turbines, he claimed, also don't cause wind turbine syndrome. “If you believe it, you’re going to have it. It’s in your head," he said.
Municipalities can save money by buying long-term fixed electricity-pricing contracts from new wind turbines, just as Coventry did for a proposed wind turbine project on a hazardous waste site.
But North Kingstown Town Council member Kevin Maloney argued that “the bill is just an end around a community that did not want (a wind turbine).”
The bill was held for further study.