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Monday, September 12, 2011

What does the wind ban say?

Tonight's the night the Charlestown Town Council will vote on the nation's first total wind energy ban.
By Will Collette

Even though the Charlestown Citizens Alliance and the Westerly Sun refer to Charlestown's proposed wind energy ban as really not a ban, let's look at what the ordinance actually says, rather than just take their word for it..

The full text - 15 pages in total - can be read here. But almost all of those 15 pages are filled with line after line of text that is struck out from the existing ordinance and moratorium, leaving very short and clear language.

By all means, read the entire ordinance in its original form, strike-outs and all. Please. But for your convenience, here is what is left after you strip out all of the struck-out language:

Ordinance No. 341


Section 1. The Town Council of the Town of Charlestown hereby ordains that Chapter 218 of the Code of Ordinances, Town of Charlestown entitled Zoning, Section 37 is amended as follows:

ARTICLE VI. Land Use Regulations.
Section 218-37. Specific Land Use Standards and Conditions.

D. Utilities
(4) Wind Energy Generator Towers and Systems

(4) Wind Energy Facilities

(a)    Purpose. The purpose of this section is to prohibit the construction and operation of wind energy facilities, as defined below, to protect the public safety and health, and to preserve the scenic, natural and historic resources of the town.

(b)   Definitions. The following terms are defined for use in applying the provisions of this Section 218-37.D.(4) and shall supplement and be in addition to those terms defined in Section 218-5.B.

Wind Energy Facility – All equipment, machinery, and structures utilized in connection with the conversion of wind to electricity. This includes, but is not limited to, transmission, storage, collection and supply equipment, substations, transformers, and one or more wind turbines and their foundations.

Wind Monitoring or Meteorological Tower – A temporary tower equipped with devices to measure wind speeds and directions, used to determine how much wind power a site can be expected to generate (referred to as “met tower”). This includes SoDAR and LiDAR equipment.

Wind Turbine – A device that converts kinetic wind energy into rotational energy that drives an electrical generator. A wind turbine typically consists of a tower, nacelle body, and a rotor with two or more blades.

(c)    Applicability. No Wind Energy Facility or Wind Turbine of any sort or nature is permitted in any zoning district located in the Town. Such uses are prohibited uses in all zoning districts.

Section 2. The Town Clerk is hereby authorized to cause said changes to be made to Chapter 218-37 of the Town of Charlestown’s Code of Ordinances.

Section 3. This ordinance shall take effect immediately upon passage.

And that's it, folks.

Even though the intention to ban every imaginable type of wind to electricity device is crystal clear, there are still some ambiguities.

Like what about the town's Met tower at Ninigret Park. While the town's own met tower is not specifically included along with wind energy facilities and turbines, the Met tower does use wind to produce electricity (so they can measure it). The Met tower's purpose is to determine whether there is enough consistent wind at that location to make a municipal wind turbine practical.

As Charlestown Planning Commissar Ruth Platner said, anything that isn't permitted is prohibited and that applies to the Met tower.

The folks in the Arnolda neighborhood really hate the idea of a wind turbine in the Park and it seems like it was their opposition that turned our Town Council into radical anti-wind fanatics.

If I were the Arnolda folks, I'd sic my lawyer on the Town and force the town to tear down that Met tower because this radical new ordinance not only prohibits construction but operation of these forbidden devices..

Like so many things in Charlestown's Code of Ordinances, this ordinance also seems to forget the enforcement element. Of course, any wind-electricity device that goes over the treeline will probably be spotted by Charlestown AntiWind goon squad, but what about all the other alternative energy contraband?

What happens if wind energy bootleggers show up and offer residents the new types of small, almost silent vertical axis turbines that don't need to be high up? What about other contraband, like the wind gauge on your little home weather center? What if people who hang on to the belief that we really ought to be switching to alternative energy start forming secret cells where they swap ideas for home-made wind generators?

Will there be surprise inspections? Will there be summary executions?

Yes, yes, I'm being silly. Sort of. But this ordinance deserves it because this ordinance is downright silly. The CCA's own survey generated over 200 responses and, of those, overwhelming support for wind energy development, though not a clear majority for giant turbines.

What we needed was not an over-the-top ordinance that bans everything, but an ordinance that bans the large industrial turbines that seem to scare a majority of Charlestown residents. At least until we can figure it out and build a consensus. We don't need a ban on all wind energy.

If the Town Council votes for this ordinance tonight, we will make history. We may find ourselves a laughingstock. We will certainly be viewed as enemies of alternative energy. The ban will be used by anti-wind energy forces, many of whom are funded by the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. 

We can count on suffering unforeseen consequences.

Our Planning Commission and Town Council took a manageable issue - whether or not to allow industrial sized wind turbines - and attacked it with a nuclear weapon.