2012-08-16 / Editorial

Let’s help lead America into the solar age

BY WILLIAM SMITH

In recent months the opponents of a Jamestown wind turbine have been vocal but their arguments are invalid. I will take this opportunity to rebut some of those issues.

First, there is the issue of shadow flicker. Luckily there are no homes north of the proposed site at Taylor Point, so no residents would be subjected to this annoying type of light pollution.

Second is the issue of noise. Let’s be clear – there is no medical evidence for so-called “wind turbine syndrome.” Jamestown can choose a modern model with proven quiet noise levels. Since traffic on the bridge is 24/7, anyone living in the Taylor Point area is already acclimatized to a continuous rumbling background noise.

Third, there is the issue of breakdowns and gearbox failure. Portsmouth knew they were taking increased risk when they purchased an untested turbine from a small manufacturer. Jamestown can avoid this mistake by purchasing a turbine from a major manufacturer, complete with insurance, a turnkey maintenance contract, and an excellent reliability record.

Fourth, some folks say that the town should not be in the business of generating electricity. But this is illogical. The town already undertakes infrastructure services such as maintaining roads, supplying water, accepting rubbish, and growing trees. How is generating electricity for local usage from the wind that passes over our island different from providing water for our residents from the rain that falls on our watersheds? Why shouldn’t we harvest what nature provides?

Fifth, there are financial questions. The projections of the Wind Energy Committee, as well as Mr. Harvey Lee’s more recent calculations, all have many conservative assumptions included, and all show that a turbine can make money for the town. Rather than dwelling on worst-case scenarios, let’s think also of some best-case scenarios. Suppose the price of electricity goes up more rapidly than projected? Since the bond payments will be fixed, any increase would be pure profits for the town. Also, the financial projections all assume a 20-year lifetime for the turbine. But suppose it lasts for 25 or 30 years? After the bond is paid off, the turbine would bring in money hand over fist.

Sixth, some people say that a large wind turbine would be “ugly” and would spoil the pristine view from the North Road farms. It’s an age-old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have had people tell me that these large, slow-turning turbines are majestic and calming. One person told me that they remind her of the ocean waves, endlessly breaking on the island’s shore. I respectfully submit that a three-bladed, slowly turning turbine would complement the static curves of the bridge and would improve the scenic views of the middle of Conanicut Island

Would a turbine beside the Newport Bridge spoil the view? The view is of the historical gristmill, the Quaker meetinghouse, the farms with their cows and cornfields, the salt marsh, Greg Zeek’s rustic bait shop, the bridge – and a whole lot of utility poles and wires.

Is the bridge beautiful? Is it scenic? There is no definitive answer, but it is certainly a huge industrial structure, which dominates the view of the Windmill Hill historic area. Day and night it towers over the middle of our island. The bridge may be architecturally pleasing. It is definitely commanding. But if you want to see something really intrusive in our views, look around at the utility poles and ubiquitous wires that crisscross our island.

We accept these truly ugly structures. We hardly notice them on a day-to-day basis because they contribute to the high quality of our modern lifestyle. Same with the noisy and dangerous automobile and truck traffic on our roads. We accept the bridge, and become fond of it, because it allows us to drive to Newport in less than 12 minutes. In the same way, we would become accustomed to a wind turbine.

There is one last issue that I hope all Jamestown residents will consider carefully. What kind of a town do we want Jamestown to be? Are we to evolve into a kind of gated community, living in our perfect rural scenic world, while out-of-sight generating plants emit the airborne mercury, the coal ash, the carbon dioxide, and the nuclear waste that generate our electricity and power our cable TVs?

Or will we be a town that accepts the urgent need to use renewable energy resources and show in a concrete way that we are ready to participate in the necessary changes to our nation’s infrastructure?

Are we a town that wants to hide in the past, or will we pitch in to the 21st century job of building an American-led golden solar age?

The author is an advocate of renewable energy and has used wind-generated electricity in his home near Hull Cove since 1976. He served on the now-defunct Wind Energy Committee, which recommended placement of a turbine at Fort Getty.

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