2008-09-18 / News

Environmental protection is considered in wind power feasibility study

By Michaela Kennedy

A handful of interested residents joined the Jamestown Wind Energy Committee and Conservation Commission for a progress check on the wind feasibility study at a public workshop on Sep. 9.

Wind committee chairman Don Wineberg said that two agenda items were set for the joint meeting that evening. First, the committee wanted to update the commission on the study, and second, to make sure the project touched relevant topics related to the study.

Wineberg explained how the wind power study was structured in a two-tiered proposal because of costs involved. The town was generous in providing initial funding for the project, but additional funding from the state was still up in the air, he said. The committee submitted a grant application to the Rhode Island Department of Energy Resources in June, but continues to wait for a response.

"We all along believed state funds would be easy to secure," said Wineberg, who has kept in communication about the project with the offices of Sen. Teresa Paiva-Weed and Rep. Bruce Long. "Everyone agrees Jamestown has the best land-based wind in the state. I think it's serious, and we need to hear an affirmative answer from them (state department of energy)."

Wind committee member Bob Bowen reported a discussion he had with the state energy resources commissioner. "He said all applications are out of his hands and now controlled by EDC (Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation)."

Senate bill 2852, which gave management control of the state's renewable energy development fund to the EDC, became effective July 8, according to a legislative status report.

During the workshop, consultant Deborah Murphy asked for information and feedback about conservation issues. She said she contacted wind project managers at Portsmouth Abbey School and Hull, Mass. for information about environmental effects. They did not know whether there were decreased numbers of birds in nearby habitats, but one red-tailed hawk was found.

Some confusion ensued as to who was responsible for giving the consultant team research information on conservation issues. Murphy said she thought the commission had data that would be provided, but some commissioners countered that they thought the consultants would follow up on available research.

Conservation Commissioner Cathy Roheim said the commission had a chance to review needs for the study and gave the wind consultants feedback at a previous meeting. "Quite an extensive list of concerns was given to the consultants. The problem is, there's little documentation."

Despite some tension rising between the two groups about where responsibility laid for collection of data, conservation commissioners quickly spoke up in favor of the project. Commissioner Patrick Driscoll said, "I don't want there to be any misconception that we are against this. Speaking for myself, we are very much for renewable energies."

Commissioner Kate Smith agreed, and asked how the board could help the project. "We are not sure what the impact will be," she said.

ATM looked further into deed restrictions on public properties, Murphy said. The federal documents for Beavertail say the park must be dedicated to public use and nothing could be over 25 feet. A landowner in the area, however, contacted the consultants about possibly putting a turbine on his land, with a lease agreement.

No major restrictions were apparent in the deeds at Taylor Point or Fort Getty that ruled them out exclusively, other than use as a public park requirement.

Responding to a question about costs and sizes of power lines, wind committee member William "Bucky" Brennan described considerations for a line distribution of energy. The line would need some sort of transformer and larger utility poles. Technology would not be a problem, but the town would have to go through permitting procedures, he said.

Commissioners Carol Trocki and Jennifer Talancy shared a laundry list of possible conservation considerations, such as shadow flicker effect on nesting and foraging birds.

They talked about the Peregrine falcon nest under the Newport Bridge, various osprey nesting spots and a concern with juvenile birds just learning to fly at Round Marsh.

Migratory Monarch butterflies and shorebirds were also on the list.

Needs for site construction and what the extent of land disturbance would be were questions that would have to be addressed, Trocki said, saying that some rare plants were found at Beavertail.

After the meeting, some committee members posted new information on the committee's Web site, www.jamestownwind.org. The Committee for Renewable Energy in Barrington has been conducting a Wind Energy Project since 2006, Bowen reported. In August, the Barrington group released a revised health and safety report containing a section on wildlife impacts, including potential impacts on bats. "I think our committee, and other interested individuals, should look at their website. Their committee has done a great job communicating both process and findings," he said.

A Nov. 19 lecture about the ecological impacts of wind energy development on birds and bats is scheduled at the University of Rhode Island, committee member Michael Larkin said online. The speaker, Boston University biology professor Thomas Kunz, is a leading expert in the field of ecology and conservation biology, he added.

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