Bristol Wind Turbine Takes Heat

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BRISTOL, R.I. — Like many densely populated areas, Rhode Island has problems with siting wind turbines. Whether or not the problems are real, turbines bring out complaints.

The latest protest is from a group of residents living near the Safe Way Auto Center wind turbine, on Gooding Avenue. The 110-foot-high, 50-kilowatt turbine is modest, but big enough and perhaps loud enough to bother residents living 1,000 or so feet from the machine.

At a Sept. 18 Town Council meeting, several neighbors complained of a persistent mechanical sound that permeates closed windows and surpasses running air conditioners. The noise, they said, is the worst at night when nearby noise from traffic and the industrial park dies down.

“This thing is insane; this thing is loud,” said Kenny Alves, who lives with his family on Hamlet Court, some 700 feet from the turbine. Because of the constant noise, he said suffers from sleep-deprivation headaches.

Lina Pereira, also of Hamlet Court, said her 5-year-old granddaughter complains of a constant buzzing in her ear. Her fiancé, Donald Pereira, won’t use the backyard pool and jacuzzi because of the noise, which forces him to take sleeping pills. "It’s annoying. [Bothering] all of our neighbors around us and no action is being taken,” he said. “I don’t know where else to go.”

Council member Halsey Herreshoff, an opponent of wind turbines, said town zoning ordinances should be rewritten to require all property owners within a half-mile of a wind project to receive notice of wind projects. The owner of the turbine, Joseph Coehlo, should also accommodate the suffering residents, Herreshoff said.

“You can’t pussyfoot around on a thing like this,” Herreshoff said. “The only solution is to move it away from where you are located.”

Council Chairwoman Mary Parella said moving the turbine will be costly for the owner, who is trying to repay his $260,000 investment on the project through the sale of electricity. Other council members noted that the location is zoned for industrial businesses, which allowed the Zoning Board to approve the project in 2010.

Town solicitor Andrew Teitz said the Zoning Board’s decision means the turbine can stay. Police, he added, found no noise violations.

Alves claimed that police admitted to hearing noise from the turbine, but that the sound doesn’t register with a decibel meter. “The noise is drawing right through my house,” Alves said. He demanded that the turbine either be removed or only operate during business hours.

Council members noted that Coehlo has shown a willingness to accommodate the neighbors. But reducing turbine use to eight hours a day would severely curtail the revenue sold back to the electric grid, through a process called net metering. “That’s just not practical,” Perella said.

The council agreed to review the zoning approval record and to hold a meeting with Coehlo and residents to see if a solution can be reached. If not, some residents vowed to take legal action. “We can sue the town, or we can sue the owner of Safe Way,” Donald Pereira said.

Bristol has shown resistance to wind projects. It's the only community to withdraw from the East Bay Energy Consortium, over objections to a wind project in Tiverton.

Seth Handy, an attorney who specializes in siting renewable energy projects in Rhode Island, said a crowded state poses challenges for wind turbines. Yet, newer turbines are quieter and more reliable, he said. Wind turbines also are one of the most efficient ways to create power, and Rhode Island is proving it offers a steady source of wind, he said.

Handy helped write legislation (H5953, S815) this year that set state standards for erecting wind turbines on farmland. The bill didn't pass out of committee and was opposed by several rural towns. Opposition is often a very vocal, but organized, segment of residents, Handy said. The bill offered large farms an opportunity to generate revenue far from developed areas.

The state and municipalities need more big-picture thinking on all energy sources, especially if can be produced locally, Handy said. “There are implications no matter where we get our power from, that’s why we have to balance the good with the bad," he said.