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Friday, October 12, 2012

Hot air on wind energy

By Frank Carini, executive director of News

Thanks to the Middletown Town Council I have a new favorite word: jackassery. An ecoRI News reader introduced it to my vocabulary when he used it to describe the council’s recent decision to cap wind-turbine noise at 30 decibels.

story posted Sept. 27 on ecoRI News has drawn plenty of online comments, most of them finding fault with the council’s ridiculously restrictive wind-turbine policy.

This new Middletown ordinance, passed Sept. 17, restricts wind turbines to farms, caps their height at 120 feet, tolerates zero shadow flicker, and, best of all, the noise they generate is capped at 30 decibels.
Visitors to the Middletown Public Library on busy West Main Road are allowed to talk louder than that. On the scale of environmental loudness, 30dB comes immediately after 0dB. A normal conversation is between 60 and 65dB, and traffic, say, sitting inside your car on a gridlocked West Main Road, is 85 dB. A telephone dial tone is 80dB.
How does anyone get any work done at the Middletown Public Library? The noise must be deafening, and the nighttime shadow flicker from the constant stream of car headlights must induce countless seizures.
To actually hear the roar of 30 dB, however, you would need to be so close to a turbine’s spinning blades that you would be getting some taken off the top.
All of this council buffoonery (my previous favorite word) was done, in the words of council member Bruce Long, to protect “public health and risk.” He explained that, “The decision we make must be ones that protect the people from their neighbors, not to protect people from themselves. The only way to do that is to put in strict guidelines.”
According to Long’s “reasoning,” homes and small businesses with wind turbines would become community menaces and put their neighbors’ “health at risk” — a phrase that can easily be substituted with “ruin their view.” Long and the other four members of the council who voted for this wind-busting ordinance don’t believe they or their constituents should have to sacrifice their view of the horizon. Let those living near coal-burning power plants make the sacrifice needed for them to have electricity.
On the plus side, though, if you live next to a farm with a wind turbine, all of Long’s perceived dangers magically disappear.
Of all the public health risks in Middletown, it would seem water quality issues rank much higher than wind-turbine noise and shadow flicker. More than 65,000 Aquidneck Island residents and visitors drink treated surface water, and early data from a long-term study reveal a high level of pollutants, according to a study being done by a Salve Regina University professor.
Bailey’s Brooks (Middletown) feeds into Green End Reservoir (Easton’s Pond) and the Maidford River (Middletown) winds its way behind Second Beach to Third Beach (Middletown). Horse, dog and deer feces are the most likely causes of high e-coli levels in these waterways and chemical fertilizers are the most likely source of high nitrate levels, according to Jameson Chace.
Local beaches, including both Atlantic Beach and Third Beach, are sometimes closed to swimming during the summer because of high e-coli levels — virulent strains of which can cause gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections and neonatal meningitis.
The majority of the Town Council appears more concerned that some are able to see the beach from their strategically placed front porches and less worried about whether anyone else can actually go swimming. Water contamination at these beaches isn’t a new problem and is one that still needs a long-term solution, but suppressing the need for more renewable energy with over-the-top restrictions is far more pressing.
The council’s aversion to wind turbines is ironic, considering, as one reader commented, Middletown’s town seal features a windmill.