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Transfer station windmill proposal met with neighborly blowback

Byron was on hand to explain the abbey's decision to install a wind turbine at the school three years ago and the financial benefits the school has enjoyed since. But the rosy picture he painted, and whether it could translate to Block Island, was challenged by many transfer station neighbors in the Town Hall over three hours that night.

"Do the good things outweigh the bad things?" This was the conundrum as articulated by Brother Joseph Byron of Portsmouth Abbey at a workshop held September 10 to discuss a zoning change to allow a wind turbine at the island's transfer station.

Byron was on hand to explain the abbey's decision to install a wind turbine at the school three years ago and the financial benefits the school has enjoyed since.

But the rosy picture he painted, and whether it could translate to Block Island, was challenged by many transfer station neighbors in the Town Hall over three hours that night.

At the outset of the meeting, Town Councilor Peter Baute offered his rough estimate for what he thought Block Island could potentially gain by creating a public utility zone that would allow for a 265-foot tall wind turbine.

The town's current annual electricity bill for its municipal buildings ranges between $372,000 and $465,000 a year. Those numbers are based on a cost of between 40 cents to 50 cents per kWh, with an annual usage of... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

"Do the good things outweigh the bad things?" This was the conundrum as articulated by Brother Joseph Byron of Portsmouth Abbey at a workshop held September 10 to discuss a zoning change to allow a wind turbine at the island's transfer station.

Byron was on hand to explain the abbey's decision to install a wind turbine at the school three years ago and the financial benefits the school has enjoyed since.

But the rosy picture he painted, and whether it could translate to Block Island, was challenged by many transfer station neighbors in the Town Hall over three hours that night.

At the outset of the meeting, Town Councilor Peter Baute offered his rough estimate for what he thought Block Island could potentially gain by creating a public utility zone that would allow for a 265-foot tall wind turbine.

The town's current annual electricity bill for its municipal buildings ranges between $372,000 and $465,000 a year. Those numbers are based on a cost of between 40 cents to 50 cents per kWh, with an annual usage of 930,000 kWh per year.

Baute estimated that the 600-kilowatt wind turbine could generate approximately $337,760 in income per year - including avoided fuel adjustment costs and renewable energy credits. The cost of producing that energy was about 9 cents per kWh, or $135,000 a year.

Hard questions

Residents on and near West Beach Road decried the proposal for a variety of reasons. They said it would destroy the serenity and views in the area, affecting property value.

They pointed to the real world affects upon their day-to-day lives and the environment. They were also troubled by the route by which the Town Council was pursuing the change.

West Beach resident Lloyd Smith asked, "Why should I have to listen to the turbine?" and questioned how the location was chosen - were there no other locations on town-owned land?

Arlene Tunney pointed out that the height of the proposed turbine would be equivalent to a 26-story building. She alluded to a wind farm near Altamont Pass in California where an estimated 1,300 birds are reportedly killed annually. How could a supposedly environmentally friendly island live with that?

William Rader asked about reported "flickers" resulting from the sun reflecting off turbine blades at certain times of the year. He worried that the turbine would affect the house rental market in the area.

Smith also chastised the council for trying to undercut the terms of Jack Gray's will. Gray left the land in question to the town, and the will calls for it to become a public nature area once the landfill was no longer in use.

One audience member questioned the order: why pursue the zoning change before a feasibility study?

Maggie Delia, a Whale Swamp Road resident, a vocal skeptic of wind power initiatives on the island, said she worried the island would lose its sense of place and tourism dollars. She asked the council to include narratives that showed the downside to wind power at future workshops.

Others pointed out that the current activity at the transfer station is not sanctioned by the zoning rules. By changing the zoning, a whole host of new commercial activity would then be allowed by law in the area.

Turbine spinning

Planning Board member Rob Gilpin, part of the subcommittee that chose the site, voiced his impatience with critics who he said were absent from meetings where the work was being done. He said that the transfer station was the only town-owned site on the island that didn't interfere with the airport, and which already had a commercial use.

Byron said that at Portsmouth Abbey he was aware of only one bird death - a red tail hawk - in the three years the turbine has been in place.

Byron acknowledged that the turbines do throw a shadow, or "flicker," which can infiltrate a home for a few hours a day a few weeks a year. But, he said it would be a trade-off for a community that suffers some of the highest electricity rates in the nation.

First Warden Kim Gaffett said that as far as she was concerned the bird argument was a "red herring." The Altamont situation was an anomaly, she said, resulting from a poor decision to place a wind farm directly in a bird migration path. Furthermore, she pointed to last spring's visit from a professor who has studied bird activity near Danish offshore wind farms. His conclusion after years of observation is that birds by and large avoid the turbines.

As for process, Gaffett said that the council was going this route because it cost nothing to change the zone, while a feasibility study could cost up to $50,000.

As to the question of Jack Gray's will, she said the town's solicitors were looking into the matter, and if the town can't do it, then it can't do it.

McGinnes spoke up and said that from what he knew, the council had been advised that the relatives of Gray could sign off on the plan to make it legal.

Baute said that while those present in the room were outspoken in their opposition to the project, the survey by Lefteris Pavlides demonstrated that a solid majority of island voters and non-resident taxpayers supported the location.

Planning Board member Kevin Hoyt urged that if the proposal were ever to move forward, a green fund be set aside for the income derived from the project. He voiced his concern that otherwise the money would be gobbled up by unchecked Town Hall spending.

Conclusions

BIPCo's Cliff McGinnes Sr. agreed with Baute's estimates provided at the start of the worskhop. However, he cautioned that the projected results were unlikely to be realized unless a cable was connected to the island, because his facility could not currently absorb the extra electricity.

An audience member said that in the end it would be very difficult to assess the potential financial benefit of the proposed windmill without knowing what the exact costs currently are for electricity, and what they would be if a variety of scenarios come to pass. That, Gaffett said, would come from a feasibility study.

The hearing is set for October 5 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.


Source: http://www.blockislandtimes...

SEP 21 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/22280-transfer-station-windmill-proposal-met-with-neighborly-blowback
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