There are more commercial-scale wind turbines on the Rhode Island horizon than ever before and offshore wind farms that could generate a substantial portion of the state’s energy remain on track.
But in many respects, the outlook for land-based wind power in the Ocean State has darkened recently, especially for municipal energy projects that had gathered momentum over the last five years.
In the depths of the recession, renewable energy in general and wind power in particular offered an attractive potential public finance and environmental-sustainability opportunity that cities and towns across the country jumped on.
Since then, in Rhode Island all but one windmill project involving a city or town government has either been abandoned or is in limbo.
And the one town-owned turbine that has been built, by Portsmouth adjacent to the high school, is now broken with the town recently postponing a decision on whether to spend money to fix it.
“I would say the last year or two the wind industry has taken a hit,” said Bristol renewable energy consultant Bob Chew.
In July, Westerly abandoned a public-private partnership with North Kingstown-based Wind Energy Development LLC to build two turbines on town land because of resident opposition.
In Jamestown, a five-year, $170,000 study of building a turbine at Taylor Point was abandoned last month over declining economic prospects and mounting concern over the risk and reward involved.
On the other side of the Claiborne Pell Bridge, the largest municipal wind-power project in the state – the 25-megawatt Tiverton wind farm proposed by the nine communities of the East Bay Energy Consortium – was halted this summer amid a series of political and legal concerns.
“This whole turbine discussion really consumed everything that we were doing and now we do want to look at [other renewable energy] projects,” said East Bay Energy Consortium Chairwoman and Newport City Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano about the project, after Bristol pulled its representative from the group’s meetings last month.
Although they have become much more common here and across the country, wind turbines still draw significant opposition from residents concerned about aesthetics and safety in whatever town they are proposed.