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Wind energy strategy to be conference topic

Renewable-energy groups from throughout Rhode Island will meet here Saturday to discuss ways communities can install wind turbines that would be used to offset the cost of electricity.

The meeting, at Roger Williams University, was organized by Bristol Wind Power, a local group that formed in support of a nonbinding referendum on wind energy that won overwhelming approval from voters last month.

The referendum capped a two-year study of wind power in Bristol that has yet to produce a concrete proposal to erect a turbine in town. The Town Council decided to hold the vote to gauge the sentiments of townspeople before moving forward with any plan.

Although Bristol is the first community in the state to hold a referendum on wind energy, several other cities and towns are looking into investing in turbines, including Portsmouth, Warren, South Kingstown and Westerly. Some were spurred by Portsmouth Abbey, a private school on Aquidneck Island that last year put up the first – and so far only – large turbine in Rhode Island.

Paul Sanroma, the chairman of Bristol Wind Power, said the conference will enable local groups to strategize together about financing, site selection, government approval and public outreach.

The ultimate goal is to form what would be known as the Rhode Island Wind Alliance, a clearinghouse for information that would mimic the role of the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The laboratory provides data to communities throughout the Bay State that are interested in building turbines.

“The alliance would put out guidelines for what a town must do to move forward with a proposal,” Sanroma said.

The groups in Rhode Island are working to meet a goal set by Governor Carcieri, who pledged during his State of the State address in January to have 15 percent of Rhode Island’s energy come from wind power. If that goal is met, turbines would generate as much as 150 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 150,000 homes. The state Economic Development Corporation is carrying out a year-long study of possible locations for wind turbines, including offshore sites.

Andrew C. Dzykewicz, Governor Carcieri’s chief energy adviser, will speak at the conference, which starts at 9:30 a.m. The event is not open to the public.

Portsmouth Abbey’s turbine has been so successful that town officials in Portsmouth are looking at erecting turbines at the town’s public middle and high schools. Representatives of the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee will be at the conference.

There appears to be broad support in Bristol for harnessing wind power.

The vast majority of people who participated in a survey earlier this year registered support for building a turbine. The survey was conducted in part by Lefteris Pavlides, a Roger Williams University professor of architecture who is a leading proponent of wind energy in Rhode Island. The Nov. 7 referendum confirmed those results, with 77 percent of 8,458 voters backing wind energy.

Sanroma said he is collecting information from town officials about total municipal power use, including electricity used by streetlights, traffic signals and Town Hall. Once the net use is calculated, the town can start considering what size turbine would be needed and where it would be installed.

Pavlides and his students have done preliminary studies of sites including the town beach and the landfill. However, before investing in a turbine, the town would have to carry out a more precise study. Pavlides and Sanroma said that would mean erecting a temporary tower with wind-measuring equipment at a proposed site.

“Ideally, you’d like a full year’s worth of data,” Sanroma said. “So this isn’t something that is going to happen in the next few weeks. While that’s going on, we can look at what types of turbines are available. Then we can also look at where the money can come from. We’re not at a point where we can present something finite.”

Kenneth A. Marshall, one of the Town Council’s liaisons to Bristol Wind Power, said it’s unlikely any plans for a turbine will come together before the springtime.

“It’s going to take a tremendous effort for our town to do this,” he said.

By Alex Kuffner

Journal Staff Writer