Government

Charlestown Strikes Up the Ban on Wind Turbines

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. — The General Assembly’s newly enacted laws facilitating the siting, construction and power-purchase agreements for commercial-grade renewable energy projects took a big hit yesterday.

At 9:52 last night, the town of Charlestown became a U.S. trendsetter in the renewable energy sector when the Town Council voted to pass the first-in-the-country ban on any size or type of electricity-generating wind turbines. The sweeping prohibition applies to large commercial turbines as well as smaller, residential models.

After working for three years to craft an ordinance that was acceptable to residents, the most recent — and heavily redacted — incarnation of the town’s wind ordinance was passed by a vote of 3-2. Council members Greg Avedisian and Marjorie Frank were the dissenting votes, while members Lisa DiBello, Dan Slattery and President Thomas Gentz all cast “yea” votes on the ban.

The idea for an outright ban was borne of the mind of town solicitor Peter Ruggiero. This month would have marked the one-year anniversary of the previous moratorium on wind-turbine construction. According to Ruggiero, Rhode Island case law insists moratoria, by legal definition, should be short term, stopgap measures to allow local governments more time to craft sufficient and efficient ordinances. Local arbiters of jurisprudence would have looked unfavorably on an extension of that moratorium, he said.

“It is better, from a legal standpoint, for the town to enact the ban, and work on crafting a new wind ordinance from the ground up,” Ruggiero said.

Tim Quillen, speaking on behalf of the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee, expressed opposition to the ordinance as drafted. “This would be a step backward for the town,” he said. “This ban is a radical overreach by the council.” He suggested that the ban be enacted on turbines over 200 feet and 100 kilowatts (kW). Any turbines less than 200 feet high and from 15-100 kW should be exempted from the ban.

Local resident Linda Felaco, an American Association for the Advancement of Science member and a frequent contributor to the blog Progressive Charlestown, stated simply, “As a homeowner, it is my right to generate my own power.”

Don Stevens, co-founder of the Compass Charter School and owner of an experimental farmstead that is, in his words, “trying to be off of the grid,” insisted that the town should be an example in the renewable-energy sector, and this ban is not the way to go. “A smart grid is developing that relies on multiple inputs,” he said. “We need to explore all of those inputs, whether they be wind, solar or geothermal.”

Local residents Ronald Ariglato and Tom Gilligan are in favor of the ban until an ordinance can be properly crafted. Referring to quality-of-life issues and public health and safety hazards allegedly associated with commercial wind turbines, Gilligan said, “Caution is warranted because the consequences can be drastic.” He made no mention of the drastic consequences of continued fossil-fuel dependence.

When the Town Council was asked by former member Deborah Carney how long the ban was expected to be in place, Councilman Dan Slattery posited that the residential turbine ordinance should be ready in three months and an ordinance concerning commercial turbines should take no more than a year to write.

Council members Slattery and DiBello framed the ban as a way of moving forward prudently and avoiding a legal gray area.

Council members Avedisian and Frank urged proponents of wind power to organize the way that the opposition has. Avedisian said bluntly, “This is not an attempt to take baby steps. The result of this ban will be a huge step backwards for the town. Why the original ordinance can’t be pared down to address residential installations is beyond me. Then, we can move on to addressing larger turbines.”

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  1. The author left out most of the important information. He heard several times that the Planning Board is already half done with a wind ordinance for residential wind turbines. That was made very clear at the hearing and Mr. Fisher was sitting there during all the testimony. Your organization through Mr. Fisher has become actively involved in partisan politics and an effort to elect and defeat candidates. The group Mr. Fisher is working with is anti-regulation, anti land preservation and pro development. If you write this kind of spin, I cannot take you seriously as a news organization.

  2. Ms. Adams,

    Thank you for your input. Allow me to address your points.

    You wrote, "The author left out most of the important information. He heard several times that the Planning Board is already half done with a wind ordinance for residential wind turbines.That was made very clear at the hearing and Mr. Fisher was sitting there during all the testimony."

    I did hear this testimony from Planning Commissioner Ruth Platner, and I included councilor Dan Slattery's attempt at putting a timeframe on the drafting of said ordinance in my article.

    You also wrote, "Your organization through Mr. Fisher has become actively involved in partisan politics and an effort to elect and defeat candidates."

    ecoRI News has never endorsed a political candidate, group, or movement. Doing so would risk our coveted non-profit status.

    Next, you wrote, " The group Mr. Fisher is working with is anti-regulation, anti land preservation and pro development."

    This could not be further from the truth. We, as a group, have written and published several articles and opinion pieces trumpeting the benefits of environmental regulation, the efforts of the numerous land trusts and preservation organizations in Rhode Island, and the dangers of continued development to our state. Here are just a few examples.
    http://www.ecori.org/green-opinions/2011/7/22/environmental-regulation-kills-jobs-not.html
    http://www.ecori.org/front-page-journal/2011/8/21/ri-land-trusts-protect-some-wonderful-places.html
    http://www.ecori.org/front-page-journal/2011/8/10/clear-cutting-of-native-habitat-at-quonset.html

  3. Mr. Carini when he wrote to me understood that when I said the group you are working with, I meant the political organization in Charlestown, not eco-RI. That political group ridicules those in favor of open space protection, and came out in favor of the recent proposed law to allow more development on land with wetlands. These kind of positions and many of their positions are in opposition with eco-RI's stated mission.

    The comments you e-mailed to me are very different than what you have posted here. I think someone has edited your response to make you appear more balanced.

    In your e-mail you challenged my knowledge of your presence at the hearing. Your photograph appears frequently in the political organization's publications where you are a poster and commenter and it appears at the eco-RI site too making you easy to recognize. At the political site you say your comments are not meant to reflect eco-RI, but you still make your associations clear.

    You say " commercial-grade renewable energy projects took a big hit yesterday". The discussion and the proposed ordinance is about residential scale wind turbines. It was made clear it is a temporary measure based on advice from the town attorney. The political group put their political spin on it and that is what you put in your story. You acted as a stenographer for that group. You made no attempt to understand the issue.

    You make statements without attributing a source. You write "spoke against the ban in terms that few locally had heard". On what do you base your analysis? Those are not new statements. Why do you say they had not been heard before? The wind resource is widely known not to extend beyond the coastal area. Yet we have a pending proposal for two over 400 foot tall 2.5 megawatt turbines in a low wind area in a residential neighborhood. Those may be fueled by tax credits rather than wind, but they are a real proposal. The speaker from the planning board made it clear that they hoped to have an ordinance for homeowner wind turbines back before the Town Council by November. That is two months, not three as you wrote. But if it is two or three months, why do you call this a total ban and the first in the country? It is a non-event really. Writing the story is just meant to promote this political group. I suggest you pick up a copy of the Westerly Sun to see how they covered the story. Journalists always have opinions, but they should try to keep their bias out of stories.

    You wrote me "I simply wrote what happened and what people said". The speakers were members of the same political group. They said those things so you could repeat them here. Did it occur to you to check facts?

    You ended your previously unedited comments with an insult. You said "If you think this is spin, then I cannot take you seriously as a news reader" After reading your account of the meeting, your misleading headlines, and seeing the author's close association with the political group in Charlestown, I have no further desire to be a reader of eco-RI, but because you are promoting a group closely aligned with developers, I will now be forced to continue to read your articles whether you wish to take me seriously or not.

  4. You state that Mr. Gilligan made no mention of the drastic consequences of continued fossil-fuel dependence. Did you ask him to comment on that or are you introducing your bias into the report?

  5. As of October 26 2016- five years later, there is no commercial ordinance written and the restrictive residential ordinance there have been no permits issued- it has had the effect of a ban.

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