Spurred by turbines, officials push expanded notification requirements

By DANIEL KITTREDGE
Posted 4/3/19

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Many residents of Western Cranston - particular in Alpine Estates and along Pippin Orchard Road - say the recent placement of the state's largest on-shore wind farm in nearby Johnston caught them off guard. Now, local and state

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Spurred by turbines, officials push expanded notification requirements

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Many residents of Western Cranston – particular in Alpine Estates and along Pippin Orchard Road – say the recent placement of the state’s largest on-shore wind farm in nearby Johnston caught them off guard.

Now, local and state officials are pushing for action to expand notification requirements for such projects in hopes of providing additional protections for residents in the future.

Senate Bill 0414, introduced by Sens. Frank Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston), Stephen Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston), Frank Ciccone (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence) and Michael McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), was heard during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture on March 27 and held for further study.

According to a statement from Lombardi, the proposal would “establish requirements and guidelines consistent with the latest technical paper on renewable energy.” Specifically, it would allow local zoning ordinances to require first-class mail notices be sent to all property owners within 500 feet of a proposed “small” wind energy system and to those within 1,000 feet of a planned “large” wind energy system – or, in each case, those within an area three times the height of the proposed wind system if it exceeds the 500- or 1,000-foot threshold.

The proposal defines “small” systems as those with a height of less than 200 feet and “large” systems as those standing more than 200 feet tall.

“The legislation would also require that the [local] ordinance establish requirements and guidelines consistent with the latest technical paper on renewable energy siting guidelines for terrestrial wind energy systems published by the statewide planning program,” Lombardi’s statement reads.

“Wind energy systems are an excellent way to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Lombardi said in a statement. “But it’s important that municipalities have the power to regulate them through local zoning ordinances. This legislation would empower cities and towns to issue special use permits, approve variances and require notice to nearby property owners, so that no residents are blindsided by the sudden appearance of a windfarm in their neighborhood.”

On March 25, the Cranston City Council approved a resolution urging state lawmakers to approve Lombardi’s proposal – and to go further.

The resolution, initially sponsored by Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan and Ward 4 Councilman Edward Brady, urges the General Assembly to expand the notification zone outlined in the Senate bill to one mile. In addition to wind energy systems, it asks lawmakers to include “nuclear power facilities, smelting operations, communication towers, solar farms, incinerators, biomass generating facilities or any other project that might lead to light or noise pollution, deterioration of air quality, produce strong (unpleasant) odors, or to emit any type of harmful emissions or otherwise have a significant environmental impact or detrimentally impact the quality of life of abutting properties.”

It also asks lawmakers to include language requiring that the mayor, City Council and planning departments of neighboring communities be notified of such projects.

Brady said the Johnston turbines have “severely impacted” his constituents. He thanked citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins for assisting with the drafting of the resolution.

“It’s becoming very evident that we need to notify residents beyond 200 feet,” he said.

Donegan said the expanded notification requirements would afford residents an opportunity to “adequately prepare and respond” to such projects and “better raise their voice.”

“What I’ve heard is … members of the community often feel like at times they don’t have a voice,” he said.

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