WINDS OF CHANGE: Naval Station Newport is planning to move forward with a wind-power project, which could generate one-third of the facility's power. Pictured above, an aerial view of the Naval War College, that includes some of the sites on the base where turbines would go.
COURTESY NAVAL STATION NEWPORT
VISUAL EFFECTS: In this simulated view of Coaster's Harbor Island from Cypress Street in Newport, two turbines are visible in the upper right.
The controversy that’s surrounded wind turbines on Aquideck Island this year isn’t stopping Naval Station Newport from moving ahead with plans for the largest wind-power project in the state.
At the end of last month, the Navy released its latest environmental findings on the proposed project, which is intended to generate roughly one-third of the military installation’s total electricity. And the base kicked off a public comment period that ran through Feb. 15 designed to see what the community thinks of the project.
What they hear is unlikely to all be positive.
Newport leaders say concern is already percolating among residents about the visual juxtaposition of large, spinning blades and historic homes nearby, such as those in the Point neighborhood at the foot of the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge.
“What we have seen so far is very preliminary, but our concern right now is we really don’t want to see [turbines] from an historic area such as the Point,” said Newport Mayor Henry F. Winthrop. “We certainly support sustainable energy, but everything has to fit aesthetically. If they were going to put them out in the east passage, where we couldn’t see them from Newport Harbor, it would be different.”
While Rhode Island saw utility-scale, wind-power projects completed in Providence and North Kingstown last year, 2012 was a rough year for wind power in Newport County.
Newport passed an ordinance banning small, residential wind turbines in 80 percent of the city, while Portsmouth is still debating what to do with its ailing high school wind turbine and Jamestown killed its long-planned, municipal wind project. The East Bay Energy Consortium was in crisis over its future for much of the year.
But unlike many wind-power debates, it’s unclear what power Newport, Portsmouth, Middletown, Jamestown or the state have to dissuade the Navy from going ahead.
Local zoning and land-use regulations don’t apply to the federal base and the turbine project is part of a larger U.S. Defense Department renewable energy initiative and the Navy’s goal of getting half its shore-side power from alternative sources by 2020.