Hopkinton Council Bans Already-Prohibited Turbines
Ordinance written by Conservation Commission would have allowed wind turbines on farms of 50-plus acres
October 15, 2019
HOPKINTON, R.I. — A 3-2 decision by the Town Council to ban wind turbines scuttled plans for an ordinance that would have allowed a limited number of wind projects on local farms.
The Wind Energy Conversion System Ordinance, written by the Conservation Commission and backed by developers, farmers, and the Hopkinton Land Trust, was drafted to help landowners earn revenue while protecting their property from more detrimental development. Under this zoning plan, wind turbines would be allowed on farms of 50 acres or more. The town would assess a tax of $5 per kilowatt on each turbine annually.
Fearing a repeat of the community acrimony caused by the prospect of losing open space to solar arrays, residents pushed back against the prospect of commercial wind development. In January, the Town Council voted down a 58-megawatt solar project that would have cleared 175 acres of woodland and natural habitat.
Local opponents of wind turbines noted some of the most common complaints against large spinning blades: noise, shadow flicker, and harm to wildlife such as birds and bats.
“Wind turbines tower over the tree line and mar the natural landscape,” Eric Bibler, founder of Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning, wrote in a recent email to ecoRI News.
There were also concerns that some members of the Conservation Commission negotiated with property owners and developers to build wind facilities.
Prior to the Town Council’s Oct. 7 vote, resident Joseph Moreau noted these discussions and said several members of the volunteer board “have lost their focus about the purpose of the Conservation Commission.”
Harvey Buford, chairman of the Conservation Commission, noted that part of the mission of the committee is to promote and develop the town’s natural resources.
“Wind and solar are natural resources,” Buford explained to the Town Council. “What we are trying to do is to use that so that we can acquire additional properties to support our farmers, so they can provide that space for us and still pay taxes.”
Kevin Blacker, a farmer from Noank, Conn., which is less than 20 miles from Hopkinton, is in a fight with the Connecticut Port Authority over the use of state piers for offshore wind development. He noted that offshore wind facilities reward foreign investors and companies, while land-based wind turbines and solar arrays can provide income for local farmers.
“We also need to protect and maintain our ability to produce food,” Blacker said. “A big part of that is keeping farms economically viable so that young people want to go into farming.”
Henry Wright, president of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, said turbines are needed to increase the number of local farms and expand the amount of locally grown and consumed food. Otherwise, if the land can’t be protected, taxes will increase and houses will be built.
“The resources that you have are the ones you have, and you have to make good use of them,” Wright said.
The Town Council eventually sided with the proposal offered by council member Sylvia Thompson to change the town land regulations and comprehensive plan to prohibit wind turbines. Thompson worried that the turbines would torment residents living nearby.
Thompson said she went forward with the ban even though the council received a legal advisement stating that turbines are already prohibited by virtue of being absent from the town zoning ordinance district use table.
“The reason I asked for this [ban on wind turbines] was to hopefully make it clear to developers and anybody who wanted to have wind turbines that they are not welcome at this time,” Thompson said.
She explained that the Town Council could reverse the ban in the future.
“But for now, I just don’t think the technology is there,” Thompson said. “I think over time it will get better and better, as technology usually does.”
Council vice president Scott Bill Hirst backed Thompson’s motion, but said he wanted more guidance from the state.
“What we really have to do in this state is prepare for our future energy needs. There’s no way around it,” he said.
Council member Barbara Capalbo said she didn’t think residents are ready to see wind turbines in the sky but she voted against the ban because she said the new rule is redundant.
“If we are not willing to listen and we’re not wiling to work on it, we’ll get nowhere at all,” she said.
Council president Frank Landolfi also voted against the ban. Sharon Davis said she supported the ban because of public opposition.