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Sunday, July 17, 2011

NO Kingstown and Charlestown neck and neck in NIMBY sweepstakes

For most of this year, Charlestown and North Kingstown have been in a race to the bottom, each trying to see how extreme they could be in attacking wind power as an alternative energy source.
Charlestown’s anti-wind moratorium, in effect until September when it must either be renewed or replaced with a permanent ordinance, is pretty extreme. It bans any and all devices that convert wind into electricity, no matter how large or small. Under Charlestown’s existing ordinance, a kid could not build a science fair project that employed wind power.
North Kingstown also has a moratorium, which they just extended. They tried – and failed spectacularly – to get legislation to extend their moratorium to the entire state.
Both towns are working to codify permanent ordinances that will satisfy their rabid anti-wind power NIMBYs. The question for both towns is how extreme they will make their bans on wind energy development.

Both Charlestown and North Kingstown faced local NIMBY reactions to two wind projects. In North Kingstown, a large commercial wind turbine was proposed for the Stamp Farm on Route 2, just south of the junction of Route 102. A second commercial sized project was proposed for North Kingstown Green, a new housing development nearby the Stamp Farm proposal off Ten Rod Road.

Charlestown NIMBYs mobilized against Larry LeBlanc’s Whalerock project which would put twin commercial turbines on the moraine ridgeline overlooking Route One. A second project, a municipal turbine in Ninigret Park, stirred up the Arnolda neighborhood.
In both towns, rather than challenge the siting and project-specific problems of each proposal, NIMBY opponents turned to outlandish propaganda claims, some of them originating in the fossil fuel industry. This propaganda declared wind power is worthless, dangerous and unhealthy. Wind power is one step short of Satanism and just one clinical study short of being declared cancer-causing. Or so it would seem.
For the record, I will once again state that I support wind power, but not necessarily every wind power project (e.g. Whalerock). I believe wind power will be an important part of a strategy to wean ourselves of fossil fuels.

There are reasonable arguments to be made about where to site wind power, the sizes and types of wind technology we use and how it fits into a broad community energy plan. It is already a proven technology that is commonly accepted around the world and it will become even more commonly accepted, except perhaps in places like Charlestown and North Kingstown.
We’ve detailed how Charlestown has chosen to address the deadly menace of wind power quite often, so let’s see how North Kingstown is handling the issue.
Last Monday, North Kingstown reviewed a proposed ordinance that would effectively ban all wind turbines over 50 feet tall everywhere in town except Quonset, which is out of their jurisdiction. They directed the town planner to craft regulations to make this ordinance town policy and to change zoning regulations to prohibit wind turbines.
Like Charlestown, North Kingstown does not make it easy for residents and local businesses to put up turbines for their own use. The 50 foot height restriction is just one-quarter of Charlestown’s theoretical 200 foot limit. That’s hardly enough to clear the trees, never mind achieve the recommended height of 30 feet above the highest nearby obstruction.
NK Town Manager Michael Embury told the Council that under this new ordinance, there may be no location in North Kingstown where a turbine could be built.
And the Council seems just fine with that.
The town has revoked the building permits for both of the proposed commercial turbines. It even revoked – for a second time – the permit issued for the North Kingstown Green turbines. The permit for that project had been restored after a lawsuit settlement between the wind turbine developer, local residents who filed objections and the town. Right after the settlement was filed and the permit was restored, the town decided to take it away again.
Under the settlement agreement, the developer reduced the size of the turbine. But to do that, he had to choose a different manufacturer. The town seized on that and deemed the project a “new application” and, because of the blanket moratorium, yanked the permit. The parties will be seeing a lot more of each other in court.
It will probably take an outside referee to judge whether the NIMBY champion title goes to Charlestown or to North Kingstown. Both have done yeoman’s work to obstruct wind power in all its forms. I think they are tied in terms of the effects of their moratoria and ordinances, tied in obstructionist fervor and intransigence.
But North Kingstown seems to have it over Charlestown in a couple of ways.
First, I think North Kingstown is more honest and a lot clearer in their intention to kill wind power, while Charlestown doesn't want to come right out and say it. Second, I am stunned at North Kingstown’s chutzpah in yanking the NK Green building permit a second time even after all the parties signed off on a settlement agreement. I have a hard time imagining that our Town Council has the stones to pull a stunt like that.
Author: Will Collette