NEW BEDFORD – The head of the city’s Department of Public Infrastructure, Ronald Labelle, is seriously considering placing windmills at the wastewater treatment plant in order to cut the plant’s electric bill.
Mr. Labelle, with the knowledge of Mayor Scott W. Lang, said yesterday he has interviewed “two or three” private windmill companies, visited the windmill at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne and discussed wind power with Fairhaven officials.
“We’re not looking for a wind farm,” he said. “It would be one, two or three windmills, max. We would do it in a way that is almost an attraction. I went to (Mayor Lang) and said, ‘I’m looking at this,’ so he’s aware that I’m looking at this.”
Mr. Labelle said windmills could potentially save the city $1 million a year in its electricity bill at the water treatment plant. Last year, the plant’s electricity bill topped $2.3 million, nearly double the year before. Mr. Labelle said the plant’s electricity costs are one of the main reasons he has proposed a 45-cent increase in the sewer rates currently being considered by the City Council.
Water rates recently went up 15 cents per 1,000 cubic feet, which will cost the average single-family homeowner about $12 per year, Mr. Labelle said. The proposed increase in the sewer rate would cost an average homeowner about $42 per year. Water rates were last increased two years ago; sewer rates have not increased in more than a decade.
Mr. Labelle said it is his responsibility as head of the water and sewer departments, which are completely funded by ratepayers, to reduce overhead wherever possible.
“I’m looking at this like I’m running a private company, and I’m looking to minimize my overhead,” he said. He said he would present his findings to Mayor Lang in a few weeks.
Elizabeth Treadup, a spokeswoman for Mayor Lang, said he knows Mr. Labelle is examining the potential benefits of wind power.
“The city is looking at every option. Wind is one of those options,” she said. “We’re looking at solar, tidal and also wind power. It’s still in the exploratory stage.
“The mayor has not signed onto or committed to anything,” she said.
She said no decision would be made without public input and forums that would discuss the alternatives under consideration.
“Any discussion would be an open, public process. The mayor welcomes any and all input on any issues that affect the city,” she said.
Mr. Labelle said the way windmills might work would be a public-private partnership, in which a private company builds the windmills and the city provides the land. The private company could reap the tax incentives for building the windmills, and the city would receive the benefit of lower energy costs.
“I don’t expect windmills to be erected at Fort Rodman unless the public is on board,” he said.
Bringing windmills to the South End was an active discussion about three years ago, when then-state Rep. Mark Howland proposed pursuing state funds to examine whether wind power could help reduce the treatment plant’s electricity bill. The proposal met with strong resistance from then-Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr., state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, some city councilors and some in the Clarks Point neighborhood. The City Council voted to pursue a study on wind power, but Mayor Kalisz vetoed it.
Since then, several suburban coastal communities – Fairhaven, Dartmouth, Mattapoisett, Marion, Westport and Wareham – have all expressed varying levels of interest in wind power.
Celeine Saraiva, president of the Clarks Point Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood is not opposed to windmills, per se.
“It’s the location only,” she said, referring to the originally proposed location of Fort Rodman, near the water treatment plant.
“If they could find another place for it, fine,” she said. “We all want to see our bills lowered, but a lot of people felt enough is enough down here.”
Ward 6 Councilor Leo R. Pimental said that three weeks ago, at a Clarks Point Neighborhood Association meeting in the South End, Mayor Lang said he was opposed to windmills in the South End.
“That’s news to me. I never thought it was back on the table,” he said. “I think the mayor, on this one, is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He said that a public hearing would be held on this.”
Councilor Pimental said he would like to see a study that shows the city could save money on its electricity bill right away, instead of waiting for five to 10 years for results.
“I’m totally dumbfounded with this conversation I’m having with you right now,” he said. “Is he going to put a windmill up in the North End to power the water pumping station he’s putting up there? Where’s the study that says we can save $1 million with windmills? If I could see a report that said we could save a million dollars a year for the next 10 years, I’d stand right there with him and dig the first ditch myself.”
By Aaron Nicodemus, Standard-Times staff writer
Contact Aaron Nicodemus at email@example.com