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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Let’s REALLY set the record straight on wind power in Charlestown

Despite CCA claims, wind power is essentially banned.
By Will Collette

While just about everybody in town agreed that the Whalerock project
was a bad idea, that doesn't mean that wind energy is evil
Out-going Charlestown Town Council member George Tremblay, a Charlestown Citizens Alliance stalwart, wrote a letter to the editor which ran in the Westerly Sun defending the CCA’s record on wind power, claiming that Charlestown has a “user-friendly” ordinance governing wind energy.

Many residents remember the horrible and divisive fight over the proposed commercial wind project known as Whalerock. Like many residents, I was happy to see the town take the most effective and fair route to ending this controversy by buying the land where the giant turbines were to be placed.

But along the way to that logical conclusion, many Charlestown residents dove deep into pseudo-science and NIMBYism to come to the conclusion that all wind power is bad. The result was Ordinance #344 which became part of Charlestown’s legal code.

Contrary to George Tremblay’s claims, Ordinance 344 changed Charlestown’s Land Use Regulations to make it impossible for anyone to construct or operate a wind-to-energy device of any size or type by creating conditions that are virtually impossible to meet.

An alternative: Squirrel power
That means none of the popular “do-it-yourself” kits (even available on Amazon) for home energy generation would be legal without going through Charlestown’s Gordian Knot of red tape. No also to vertical axis turbines – purposely designed to be close to soundless as well as bird-friendly.

The section addressing “Residential Wind Energy Facilities” automatically bans any wind device taller than 125 feet or that produces more than 20 kilowatts. 

It sets NO MINIMUM size or output. Indeed, the regulations say they cover “any proposed wind energy facility” and any device “regardless of height or rated capacity.”

All MUST acquire a building permit. Any device that goes more than 10 feet above the roofline must also get a Special Use Permit. The actual requirements for what a homeowner or farmer must do to apply for a building permit are truly amazing and should be read to be believed.

The practical effect of CCA-driven town regulations on wind energy is to ban the production of wind power in Charlestown by creating conditions that are impossible to meet.

If you don’t believe me, read the regulations (in their entirety, below).

If you don’t believe me, contact town building official Joe Warner and ask him what you would need to do to install a wind energy device to help power your home or business.

If you still don’t believe me, ask Joe how many permits he has issued for wind energy devices in Charlestown since Ordinance 344 was passed in November 2011.

George Tremblay describes that ordinance and the subsequent town regulations as “user-friendly.”

However, anyone who actually reads the ordinance or simply asks Joe Warner how to get a wind energy device for their own home will discover that the Charlestown Citizens Alliance once again uses doublespeak to cover up what it a green energy ban.

One last thing about the merits of wind energy – the most prominent opponent to all wind power is none other than Donald Trump.

For your convenience, I have copied and pasted in Charlestown’s entire “Residential Wind Energy Facilities” law below.

I highlighted in yellow conditions set on any and all wind devices and blue for additional conditions required if the wind device is more than 10 feet higher than the roofline or produces more than 20 kW of energy. I also added an editorial note (bold red) on the Zoning Board of Review which plays a key roll in this.
(4) Residential Wind Energy Facilities.
[Amended 3-14-2011 by Ord. No. 338; 9-12-2011 by Ord. No. 341; 11-14-2011 by Ord. No. 344]

(a) Purpose. The purpose of this section is to provide for the construction and operation of wind energy facilities as accessory uses and structures for residential and agricultural uses, and to provide standards that address public health, safety and welfare in the placement, design, construction, monitoring, modification and removal of wind energy facilities and minimize negative impacts on scenic, natural and historic resources of the town.

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

The height of a wind energy facility is measured from pre-development grade to the tip of the rotor blade at its highest point.

The electric power production of the turbine, as specified by the manufacturer.
(c) Applicability. Only wind energy facilities designed to provide primary and/or accessory electricity for residential or agricultural uses are permitted under the provisions of this section. Maximum output permitted is 20 kW, as rated by the manufacturer, and maximum height allowed is 125 ft.

(d) Application Procedures for Residential Wind Energy Facilities.

[1] General Compliance.

The construction and operation of any proposed wind energy facility shall be consistent with all applicable local, state and federal requirements, including but not limited to all applicable safety, construction, environmental, electrical, communications and aviation (i.e. FAA) requirements.

A wind energy facility shall be considered an accessory use and structure, and any wind energy facility, regardless of height or rated capacity shall require the issuance of a building permit by the Building Official. Prior to the issuance of a building permit, the applicant/owner of the wind facility shall receive all other permits and approvals, as relevant.

A met tower is permitted by right in all zoning districts where structures of any sort are allowed and shall require the issuance of a building permit by the Building Official. A met tower is allowed up to 125 feet in height on a temporary basis not to exceed one-year from the date the building permit is issued. The Building Official may grant a single one-year extension, if justified upon a written request by the applicant. A met tower must comply with § 218-37D(4)(g), Siting Standards.

[2] A wind energy facility with a total height that is equal to or less than the maximum height allowed for the principal use for the lot as specified in § 218-42B (Building Height) is allowed by Building Permit in all residential zoning districts or on lots used exclusively for residences and/or agriculture, provided that, the standards contained herein are met.

[3] A wind energy facility supported solely by attachment to a principal residence is permitted to rise ten (10) feet higher than the roof line of that same residence, irrespective of the height restriction specified in § 218-42B, provided that all other standards contained herein are met.

[4] A wind energy facility with a total height that is greater than what is allowed in Subsection D(4)(d)[2] and [3] herein but that is not greater than 125 feet requires a Special Use Permit prior to the issuance of a Building Permit and is allowed in all residential zoning districts or on lots used exclusively for residences and/or agriculture, provided that, in addition to the standards required for a special use permit (as contained in § 218-23A), all other standards contained herein are met.

[5] A wind energy facility that has a rated output of greater than 20 kW, a total height greater than 125 feet or that is on a parcel that ordinarily requires Development Plan Review or Planner Review is not permitted under this section.

(e) Application requirements shall include the following materials:

[1] Site plan. The applicant shall submit a site plan with the following information:

[a] Property lines and physical dimensions of the subject property;

[b] Location, dimensions and types of existing structures on the property;

[c] Location of the proposed wind turbine, foundations, guy anchors and associated equipment;

[d] Setback distances between the wind energy facility and property lines, with evidence of compliance with the setback requirements of Subsection D(4)(g); and

[e] Location of any overhead utility lines.

[2] Engineering Details and Specifications. The applicant shall submit the following details for the proposed wind energy facility:

[a] Blueprints/drawings of the proposed structures including details for the foundation and electrical components, stamped by a Professional Engineer licensed in the State of Rhode Island, certifying compliance with the Rhode Island State Building Code and the National Electric Code;

[b] Wind energy facility specifications, including manufacturer and model, turbine rated output in kW, rotor diameter, tower height, tower type (freestanding or guyed), and overall height; and

[c] A copy of the application for interconnection with their electrical utility provider, if the wind energy facility is to be connected to the power grid.

[3] Neighborhood Sound Impact Analysis. The applicant shall submit manufacturer's documentation of the sound levels generated by the turbine under various wind conditions and at serial distances from the turbine to allow estimation of sound level at the property line.

(f) Additional Standards for Residential Wind Energy Facilities that require a special-use permit.

[1] Prior to an issuance of a special use permit for any wind energy facility, the Zoning Board of Review must determine that it meets the standards contained in § 218-23. In addition, the Zoning Board may impose reasonable conditions, safeguards and limitations on time and use, and may require the applicant to implement all reasonable measures to mitigate unforeseen adverse impact of the wind energy facility should they occur.

[2] Residential wind energy facilities shall be sited in a manner that minimizes shadowing or flicker impacts on abutters. For facilities more than 60 feet above grade, the applicant must provide evidence that potential shadow flicker impacts will be addressed either through siting or mitigation measures. The applicant shall submit manufacturer's estimation of shadow flicker effects of the turbine at the proposed height, including the expected seasonal times and durations.

To protect the general character of the surrounding area the Zoning Board of Review may impose a lower height limit, increased setback requirements or any other mitigation measures.

[4] Applicants shall propose monopole towers. Lattice towers may be permitted by the Zoning Board only if they are able to make the following findings: That due to existing site features such as topography, dense year round tree cover, the existence of other structures or other unique conditions, the lattice tower will not result in an increased visual impact over that of a monopole tower at the same site.

EDITOR'S NOTE: the Zoning Board of Review, like all other key political bodies in Charlestown, is totally controlled by the CCA Party. One of the people they installed on the ZBR is Mike Chambers who was one of the most fanatical anti-wind NIMBYs. Also on the ZBR is another anti-wind NIMBY, Joe Quadrato. And then there's Cliff Vanover, a CCA co-dounder who opposes building anything.

Anyone who thinks they can meet the standards in this ordinance and get a special use permit from the ZBR will have to reckon with opposition from Chambers, Quadrato and Vanover. So, yeah, Charlestown HAS in fact banned wind energy.

(g) Siting Standards for all Residential Wind Energy Facilities.

[1] Minimum Setbacks. Except where a wind energy facility is supported solely by attachment to a principal residence and is no higher than 10 feet above the roof level of the principal residence, there shall be a setback between each property line or public road and the center line of the foundation of the wind energy facility equal to the sum of the required district setback for accessory structures for that property line plus the height of the wind energy facility. This requirement may be waived if the applicant can secure an easement over the abutting property that otherwise meets this minimum required setback, provided the property subject to the easement is not divided by a public road within a distance less than the minimum required setback.

[2] Sound Setbacks. If necessary, minimum setback must be extended such that the sound pressure level generated by a wind energy facility meets the requirements of § 218-37(D)(4)(i)[3] (Safety and Environmental Standards for all Residential Wind Energy Facilities — Sound). Where a wind energy facility is attached to a principal residence, it must be of a design that can meet the sound setback.

(h) Aesthetic and Design Standards for all Residential Wind Energy Facilities.

[1] Color and Finish. All components of a wind energy facility higher than 35 feet above grade shall be painted a neutral, non-reflective exterior color, unless mitigation measures as directed by the town warrant differently.

[2] Lighting. Wind turbines shall not be lighted. Lighting of other parts of the wind energy facility, such as appurtenant structures, shall be limited to that required for safety, security and operational purposes, and shall be limited by timers, and shielded from abutting properties.

[3] Signage. A wind energy facility shall not display any permanent or temporary signs, writing, symbols, logos or any graphic representation except for signs necessary to identify the owner, provide a 24-hour emergency contact phone number, and warn of any danger; and must comply with Article XI of this ordinance.

[4] Utility Connections. Utility connections from the wind facility shall be installed underground. Electrical transformers for utility interconnections may be above ground if required by the utility provider.

[5] Support Towers. Monopole towers are required for wind energy facilities taller than 35 feet above grade.

(i) Safety and Environmental Standards for all Residential Wind Energy Facilities.

[1] Braking System. Wind turbines shall have an automatic braking, governing or feathering system to prevent uncontrolled rotation, over-speeding and excessive pressure on the tower structure, rotor blades and other turbine components, or as a means to implement mitigation for noise in excess of that permitted, shadow flicker, or natural resource protection.

[2] Physical Safety. All Residential Wind Energy Facilities shall allow ten (10) feet of clearance between moving parts and the ground, or otherwise shield people from moving parts and electrical components.

[3] Sound. The sound pressure level generated by a wind energy facility shall not exceed 35 dB(A) from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., or 45 dB(A) from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the property lines. If the ambient sound pressure level exceeds these limits, based on a site-specific sound study, the standard shall be ambient dB(A) plus 3 dB(A). In the event of complaint about noise, the applicant has the burden of proving that the sound generated by the wind energy facility meets the requirements of this ordinance.

[4] Wildlife. The potential adverse impacts to wildlife should be minimized through appropriate siting. For example, discourage flight paths into turbines by not placing turbines in close proximity to structures meant to attract birds such as bird feeders, birdbaths, or birdhouses. Turbine placement should avoid barns or other structures known to contain bat roosts.

(j) Monitoring and Maintenance.

[1] Wind Energy Facility Conditions. The owner of any wind energy facility shall maintain the wind facility in good condition. Maintenance shall include, but not be limited to, structural repairs and integrity of security measures.

[2] Modifications. Any modification that increases the height, sound or rated output of the Residential Wind Energy Facility shall first require the owner to return to the appropriate authority for additional approval.

[3] Operation. If electronic interference results from the operation of the wind energy facility, or if sound, shadow flicker, or other adverse impacts exceed the allowable limits of this section or other applicable regulations, or a limit placed as a condition of the special use permit, the Building Official shall notify the owner in writing of the violation. If the violation is not remedied within thirty days, the facility shall remain inactive until the violation is remedied.

[4] Enforcement and Penalties. The Building Official shall be responsible for the enforcement of the provisions of this section. Failure of the owner of any wind energy facility to comply with operational standards, or mitigation measures shall be considered a violation of the zoning ordinance, subject to the provisions of § 218-9.