The state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the town of Narragansett surveyed local residents on the possible installation of three to 6 wind turbines on state or town properties in the area. The town is located on the Atlantic Ocean, near Nantucket.
“Rhode Island has abundant wind energy resources and wants to use these resources to maximise the economic development potential inherent in renewable energy projects,” explains DEM. It issued a call for bids this summer to construct onshore wind farms where the generation would support state camping and beach facilities located in the area.
There was clear support for moving away from fossil fuels and using more clean energy, with 97% of respondents indicating this was an important issue. Another 91% said clean energy would be good for the state's economy, and 89% had positive opinions on the use of wind to generate electricity. When asked about reasons for not supporting clean energy technology, half of the respondents rated the cost of wind technology as an important issue, while 44% said noise was an important consideration.
When asked about the impact of wind turbines on beach use and placement of turbines in unspecified locations, 77% said they had seen a modern wind turbine in operation. When asked if they would visit a beach where they could see a turbine, 83% said the presence of a wind turbine would not make a difference on their visit but 12% said they would be less likely to visit the beach.
Most respondents (75% to 78%) support land-based wind farms in Narragansett, as long as only one or two structures are sited on a parcel of land and three to five wind turbines are located in town. If they could not see the towers from their house, 75% support wind turbines while 61% support if they can see from their house. If they could not hear the wind turbines from their house, 71% supported wind turbines but support drops to 38% if they could be heard.
Respondents rated the impact of wind turbines on 16 specific issues, such as job creation, air pollution, electricity rates, tourism, taxes, noise and environmental considerations. Wind farms in Narragansett would have a positive impact on electricity rates, according to 71%, while 55% predicted new job creation, 54% on general environmental considerations and 44% responded positive impacts on air pollution levels. In total, 78% said the wind turbines would have a positive impact on residents from an overall view of the project.
The survey identified issues where local wind turbines would have a negative impact on residents, including noise levels (33%), impact on the landscape (28%), property values (23%), and bird/bat life (16%). Of the 16 categories, most respondents said 6 issues where wind turbines would have no impact include public safety (81%), use of public beaches (77%), enjoyment of property (73%), traffic at turbine sites (72%), fishing (71%) and tourism and related businesses (68%).
When asked about ownership, 72% were more likely to support the project if the wind turbines were owned by the town and support dropped to 49% if the state or a developer owned the project.
At the close of the 8 July bidding period, four proposals for development of a wind project were submitted to the Department of Administration, and a review team of representatives from various departments, the town of Narragansett and the governor's office are reviewing the proposals and will render a decision this year. DEM asked representatives from the environmental community to participate in the review, but this they declined to take part in the exercise.