Who woulda thunk it?
The Tea Party, which generally opposes any legislation that favors the environment or is considered “green,” seems to have found common ground with tree huggers on at least one issue.
Wind energy, at least the home-generated type, was endorsed by the Rhode Island Tea Party during an April 5 hearing on a bill (pdf) to set statewide standards for residential, small-scale turbines.
“It’s in keeping with our ideals of keeping things local and keeping things in the hands of citizens,” said Michael Puyana of the Rhode Island Tea Party.
Puyana also endorsed the legislation, he said, because it promotes individual choice and free-market principles.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Carnevale, D-Johnston/Providence, sets statewide regulations for the residential turbines, which several communities have recently prohibited or restricted. The proposed guidelines specify ordinances for rooftop and pole-mounted turbines, most of which can be bought online or at building supply stores.
The standards set a 10-kilowatt power limit, or enough electricity to turn on a hunded 100-watt light bulbs.
The maximum height would be determined by lot size. But the proposed rules generally allow pole-mounted turbines up to 80 feet on a lot between a quarter of an acre to an acre, and higher for larger lots. Any guide wires must be at least 10 feet from a property line, and a fall zone of at least 1.5 times the diameter of the blades is also required. A braking system or feathering system also is mandatory, to reduce risk of damage during high winds.
Of course, an inspection and permit are required from the city or town with fees up to $150.
Newport, North Kingstown and Charlestown currently have a moratoriums or ban on industrial wind turbines, which were put in place to curtail larger turbine projects until new standards are written.
Carnevale corrected a misconception that his bill competes with a separate project by the state Division of Planning to set wind regulations. The other project, he said, is setting standards for much larger turbines.
Addressing other common objections about wind power, he noted that residential turbines are 75 percent quieter than a window air conditioner. The turbines are not known to fall or break apart. Falling tree branches pose more of a hazard than detached blades, he said.
Robert Pingitore of Johnston testified that he reduced his electric bill by some 40 percent since installing a 44-foot-high turbine in 2008. With the help of a federal tax credit, the $5,280 turbine paid for itself in about 16 months. Smaller turbines cost about $600, he said.
The town of Johnston had no guidelines for installing turbines, but with assistance from town officials, Pingitore was able to get his turbine up and running. He now has plans to add a 90-foot-high turbine.
Pingitore cautioned that not all homes are suitable for wind power. But he recommended those with higher elevations or that sit near bodies of water to consider turbines. To help meet demand, the state needs to make it easier for homeowners by setting universal building codes, he said.
“We have nothing on the books and it’s about time we start thinking about the future of renewable energy,” Pingitore said.
The House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources voted to hold the bill until a later hearing.
A House bill (pdf) to reinstate a 25 percent renewable energy tax credit for wind, solar and geothermal residential systems will be held April 24.