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Friday, July 29, 2011

North Kingstown Blow-out: Year in Review

Artist's conception of the Stamp Farm
turbine on Route 2
Samantha Turner had a great article in Thursday's North Kingstown Patch that reviewed her year's worth of combat reporting from one of the other front lines in the struggle against the deadly menace of wind energy.

She's been covering in the issue in depth, blow by blow. Reading her coverage and comparing it to the Charlestown experience has been troubling. Of all Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns, Charlestown and North Kingstown seem to be the most NIMBY-struck and extreme in their reaction to the very idea of wind energy.

And, as regular Progressive Charlestown readers know, I've been trying to figure out which of the two towns has taken the more extreme measures to make sure wind energy doesn't happen.

Here are two pretty affluent, well-educated places with generally good environmental practices and values that have taken reasonable opposition to large turbine projects and turned them into an almost cult-like jihad against wind power in all its forms.

In North Kingstown, the first trigger was a proposed 427-foot turbine that was going to be built in the middle of a new upscale housing development. The twist is that the turbine was going to be built right in the backyard of the developer Mark DePasquale. Samantha quotes him saying  “I want to do this so that when people say to me ‘I don’t want one of those in my backyard. Would you?’, I can say  ‘Yes I would and I do. Come see it.’”

Then DePasquale and the Stamp Family proposed a second 427-turbine, this time on the Stamp Farm right on Route 2.

All hell broke loose as opposition mounted to both projects. The Town Council began the year by enacting a town ordinance that loosened restrictions. But after the folks with the torches and pitchforks starting coming out, they did a 180-turn. Sounds a lot like Charlestown's love-then-hate with Whalerock doesn't it?

Samantha's chronology is eerie in the way it parallels Charlestown. And there are links to all her original stories in the sidebar.

Now, after a 5-0 vote by the Town Council, the North Kingstown Planning Department is writing a new ordinance that will ban wind turbines for 12 to 18 months.

And the town has cancelled the permits for the two proposed commercial turbines.

I can understand people in NK and here in Charlestown who don't want a 427 foot wind turbine next door, though I found it interesting that developer DePasquale was prepared to build his literally in his backyard. That project would be right in the middle of a neighborhood. But the Stamp Farm turbine wouldn't.

I've heard good arguments from wind energy supporters that large, land-based turbines are not as practical or financially promising as other approaches, such as off-shore, or smaller and more diverse applications of wind energy, such as the vertical axis systems I wrote about a few days ago.

But one problem both NK and Charlestown now face is that opposition to wind energy is so all-encompassing - and unscientific - that it demonized wind energy in all its forms. As I wrote earlier, our Charlestown ordinance bans "any and all" devices that convert wind into electricity - and that's just nuts.

Eventually, the bans on all wind energy in Charlestown and North Kingstown will be lifted, probably after permanent ordinances are enacted outlawing commercial turbine projects. But what about other uses, such as for homes and small businesses? Charlestown's ordinance language is so draconian, as written, that it seems unlikely that anyone in town could possibly get the required special use permit, or would even try. I suspect NK will go the same route.

And that's a shame.

Author: Will Collette