June 4, 2008
By Josh Bickford
“DID TOWN RUSH INTO TURBINE PROJECT?”
The vote over the proposed wind turbine in town has been cast, but that hasn’t stopped one man from raising concerns over the project. While the majority of people attending last week’s Financial Town Meeting voted in favor of a 264-foot wind turbine at Barrington High School, Ron Russo believes the project has too many problems for it to continue as proposed.
He pointed to the overall height of the tower, its proximity to the high school’s athletic fields and main building, some unclear information that could have confused voters, and said the project appeared to be fast-tracked by local town officials and the committee assigned to study the work.
Mr. Russo, a Candleberry Drive resident, attended the Financial Town Meeting on May 28 and even proposed an amendment to the wind turbine bond. He asked people to approve the construction of a wind turbine with the stipulation that it not be built at the high school. Voters defeated that request.
“I was late to this issue. I wasn’t paying that much attention. I wasn’t even planning on attending the town meeting. When I found out how high the tower was going to be at its location, I was surprised,” Mr. Russo said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against building a wind turbine, but I feel like the high school is the wrong location for it.
“I feel like this was a rush to judgment. I think it’s the wrong size and the wrong location.”
Mr. Russo believes the deadline placed on this project pushed officials to fast-track the approval process. Barrington Town Manager Peter DeAngelis held a different perspective.
“People are used to government working slowly,” Mr. DeAngelis said. “Maybe this is an example where government is not working slowly. Last year council gave me three weeks to put together application.”
The application for a $2.1 million no interest loan through the Internal Revenue Service was filed, granted and officials later created a renewable energy committee. Jim Bride was named the chairman.
“When the committee formed at end of 2007 we were given this great opportunity. The town gave us a timeline to work with. They wanted us to make sure the citizens of Barrington, the school committee, and the town council were all on board,” Mr. Bride said.
Mr. Bride said on Monday that he is moving out of town in the near future.
“I can’t say enough about the people on this committee,” Mr. DeAngelis said. “These are good, knowledgeable people. The reason we were able to accelerate this project is because of the people who were on this committee and the work they did.”
Mr. Russo said a project of this magnitude, affecting the landscape dramatically, should not have moved as quickly.
“My feeling is that I think there was a rush to judgment to get this money,” Mr. Russo said. “I think they looked at the fact that they could get a no interest loan. They saw the money, put the application together, and they didn’t think through the impact. What about those people who own homes near the school. Their properties aren’t going to be worth dirt.”
Mr. Russo said the height of the tower was not correctly shown to residents and he added that the images used during the Financial Town Meeting presentation may have misled voters.
He said there was never a clear profile sketch provided to people, one that compared the heights of the wind turbine tower against existing structures like the high school building and the lights at the football field.
“The picture they showed of the tower was coming over the White Church Bridge. It was 5,000 feet away. There was no comparison drawing of what you’d see coming down County Road,” Mr. Russo said. “I think the (Barrington) Times was remiss by not showing how tall this was going to be.
“We’re going to be the laughing stock of the state. People are already laughing at Barrington for other reasons.”
Mr. DeAngelis said there were plenty of opportunities for people to get involved in the discussion process. He said there were open meetings, at which people did voice concerns and some changes were made.
“We had two public outreach sessions. At the first one we invited people who lived within 800 feet of the site. The second one was open to the public,” Mr. DeAngelis said. “We listened to what they wanted. They changed the location. Now the NIMBY [not in my back yard] crowd is bringing it about the school.”
Mr. Bride acknowledged that there were problems with the images presented at the meeting.
“I’ve heard feedback is that the image was hard to make out. I’m not denying that. We tried to do the best we could do,” he said.
The information included in the Barrington Exploratory Wind Power Committee’s siting subcommittee report has also been brought into question.
A graphic included in the report shows the apparent minimum setback around the tower at 492 feet (drawn as a circle over the existing structures). The committee used an estimate of 500 feet for the graphic, but the scale appears off. In fact, the circle designating the setback appears closer to 300 feet rather than 500.
When asked about the graphic, Mr. Bride said he would take another look to see if the scale was inaccurate.
The fall zone for the tower is set at 328 feet, and while there are no private residences within 500 feet of the tower, the high school is less than 200 feet from the proposed tower’s base — well within the fall zone.
“These are not designed to fall down,” Mr. Bride said. “I know people have concerns, but there is a lot of engineering that goes into these projects.”
Patrick Guida, the chairman for the Barrington School Committee, said the board has studied the project and discussed it numerous times.
“Right now, based on what has been explained to us, we don’t believe safety is an issue,” he said. “From our perspective, there are different time frames when an accident would be more or less likely to occur.”
He said construction of the turbine could prove to be a dangerous period, especially when crews are moving the turbine blades into place.
“We have to be sure that the site would be cordoned off,” Mr. Guida said. “Could that be readily addressed and enough precautions taken during that period of time? Once it becomes operation, what are the concerns? If there were too great a wind, and if there was any malfunction, or if there were a problem because of an ice factor, that might also create an issue.”
Mr. Guida said much of his concerns and those of other school committee members were quelled by officials involved with the project. He said the committee will continue to monitor the proposed project closely.
“We approved this conditionally,” he said. “Number one, we had to have guaranteed a maximum price contract, no overrides. And it had to be able to operate in a manner where there would be safety in the face of vandalism or daredevil acts. Who knows what some student might dream in relation to the turbine?”
Mr. Bride said he understood the concerns raised, but wanted to emphasize the fact that there are approximately 180,000 wind turbines operating across the world. He said the benefits of creating a renewable energy source — one that would likely provide the high school with all its required electricity — should not be overlooked.
“The whole issue of sustainability is so important,” he said. “Our energy costs are going up. If there’s anything we can do to mitigate this … this was an opportunity for Barrington to take the lead on this issue.”
Can the wind turbine be relocated?
Barrington residents concerned with the proposed location of a wind turbine in town were told at the Financial Town Meeting last week that sites other than the high school could be explored, as long as the bond was voted through that night and pending legislation at the statehouse was approved. According to Barrington Town Manager Peter DeAngelis, there may be one other factor to consider. Mr. DeAngelis said the no interest loan from the Internal Revenue Service may be site specific.
On Legislation: If approved by lawmakers, the legislation would allow for the transfer of energy from a different site to the high school, the town’s biggest energy consumer.
On Loan: Mr. DeAngelis said the $2.1 million no interest loan from the IRS may not be applicable if the site for the wind turbine was changed. The high school was listed as the location in the loan application.