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Letter: Listen to the Wind Turbine Survey

Town Council member Barbara A. VonVillas was the sole opposing vote to Monday's call for a ban on all wind turbines in Middletown except for agricultural use.

To the Editor:

I smell fear.  

Why else would four Middletown councilmen - when two of the seven Council members were absent - orchestrate approval of a motion to halt all but “agricultural” development of wind energy in Middletown – a motion that was not even on the Monday night agenda?

Is it because the results of the recent town survey related to wind turbines clearly demonstrated that more than 50% of the respondents support properly sited wind turbines of all sizes? Is it because the faction that has been opposing turbines has finally been clearly identified as the minority? Is it because they wanted to minimize the public feedback  before it changed the conversation? 

What was in the survey that so frightened these councilmen that they needed to eliminate the threat to their persistent stonewalling? Is this the same Council that has consistently demanded lengthy periods of public input, most recently for example, on roundabouts?

The majority of the respondents were between the ages of 35 and 75. They were employed, self-employed or retired. They were year-round residents. The respondents were a typical baseline for Middletown.

Where do they live? A large number come from Easton’s Point, but the rest live across  the other areas of town. An unbiased person might conclude that there was fair representation among the 549 responses.

The format was based on a survey conducted by RIDEM in Narragansett, so one might conclude that it was politically neutral.

A large majority (84%) considered it important or very important that Middletown use clean energy in contrast with a minority (9%) that considered it unimportant or very unimportant. (It should be noted that the percentages described here do not take into account neutral responses, although one might conclude that a neutral response reflected no opinion either way.)

Between 80% and 90% considered the following reasons important for the development of clean wind energy: “good for local and national economies… lower electric bills… reduce dependency on foreign oil…good for the environment.”

On the other hand, 35% to 42% were concerned about the flicker effect, the noise, and the cost effectiveness. More than 50% said turbines are not aesthetically pleasing.

Respondents were influenced by location, but it’s fair to say that the support for turbines of all sizes was disproportionately higher than the opposition.

In fact, the only fairly close results related to the potential for seeing turbines from a respondent’s home, and the only question that elicited a larger percentage of opposition was in regard to hearing them from a home.

Interestingly, the majority said turbines would have a positive or no impact on property values, electric rates, air pollution, economic development, public safety, the use of public beaches, taxes, and the general environment.

A large majority supported a town turbine that was an economic benefit to the town. 

Of course a survey is just a way of testing the waters. It is not a mandate. However, this survey was authorized  by the Middletown Town Council as a way to get feedback from the town following the statement, “We don’t even know if the people in Middletown want a turbine.” 

Well, we did the survey. We got the results. The people have spoken. Yet four councilmen contrived to act arbitrarily and sweep the results under the rug at one meeting although turbines have been on the table for more than 3 years, the soon anticipated studies promised by governmental agencies have not yet been released, and there has been no discussion of the feedback provided in the survey by the people of Middletown.

I smell fear, and I also smell collusion – a motion coming out of nowhere and a majority vote lined up before a meeting. This Council has repeatedly talked about transparency. Unfortunately for them, they got it. Their motives are blatantly transparent.

Maybe the only way to fix this mess is a referendum. Those results – one way or the other – would be indisputable. That would protect the people’s will.  

And perhaps the community needs to look closer at its representation on this Council at election time.

I vote my conscience, even when it is unpopular, so please, if you do not like my voting record, don’t vote for me.

However, if you are among those who are being disenfranchised by council members who would stonewall forever and then disregard the results of a survey that gave them answers they asked for but didn’t like, let your pencil do the talking at the voting booth in November.

I know I will.

Barbara A. VonVillas

Antone Viveiros February 13, 2012 at 04:19 AM
I am very glad that Councilor VonVillas has sheared her feelings with us. But I am appalled, that she would state that she fears, and smells collusion. It seems to me that she should practice what she speaks. She practiced collusion herself, when she did her own steady on Regionalization, and presented it to the council as unbiased fact, while bringing it up over and over again, because she did not get her way. She does not discuss opposite opinions, she attacks the person. She opposed councilor Longs obtaining private funding to fund a steady, to acquire data on flicker, noise, ice throw, bird deaths, cost, and disrupting the appearance of natural landscapes, proper setbacks and highs restrictions, and claimed the study would be bias. Now she is singing another song. She has made this political by stating: Perhaps the community needs to look closer at its representation on this Council at election time, clamming people are being disenfranchised, and indicating she's looking out for the people, when in-fact, is looking out for herself, and the 2012 election. This is just like, her candidacy announcement for the council, from the floor, of the council chamber, while chastising the council over their handling of the Charter Revision process, in which she was the chairperson. It is not what goes into the body, rather what comes out, ones words and actions, that denotes a person’s character. (A Priest at St Mary’s Church, Newport)
Jarrett February 16, 2012 at 04:49 PM
I am in full agreement that the survey results should be used but don't try to use results from questions where the public is clearly not educated on the subject. It is fine to get opinions from the people but stated results like, "the majority said turbines would have a positive or no impact on property values" clearly does not actually follow the facts of past projects. Wind turbines, especially the large ones, do decrease home values. It doesn't matter if you are a YIMBY, your whole neighborhood will lose value due to shadow flicker (watch a video on it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbIe0iUtelQ). And obviously you can't hide this fact when working with potential buyers. By voting this way the council ensured that middletown will continue to be a desired residential community to live in. The debate of height is now no longer a waste of time and resources, as there is no silver bullet answer.
Barbara A VonVillas February 16, 2012 at 05:50 PM
This is exactly the reason that data and public input is so important before a decision is made, not afterwards when it is too late. I can live with an intellectually honest decision but not one made in a vacuum. You may want to look at a report entitled, "The Impact of Wind Turbine Projects on Residential Property in the United States: A Multi-Site Hedonic Analysis" published by the Berkeley National Laboratory and funded by The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Wind & Hydropower Technologies Program) of the U.S. Department of Energy. It is available at http://eetd.lbl.gov/EA/EMP/emp-pubs.html/ Search "Publications" by date. It is the 2nd report under 2009. This substantive (164 pp.) data-driven report concludes, "Based on the data and analysis presented in this report, no evidence is found that home prices surrounding wind facilities are consistently, measurably, and significantly affected by either the view of wind facilities or the distance of the home to those facilities." Thank you for your comments.
Andy Magruder March 05, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Our great-great-grand children are going to say "what were they thinking" when the US Midwest is sand dunes (it has been before), most of the shellfish in the ocean have died because of acidity from dissolved CO2, they have to add a Category 6 to classify hurricanes and our beaches and most of ocean drive are under water. These things are a real possibilities. There's a book in the Middletown Library "With Speed and Violence, Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change". Read it.
Barbara A VonVillas March 05, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Thank you very much. I have just ordered it for my Kindle. The reviews were terrific!

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