WESTPORT – Selectmen agreed to sign a contract for building a Town Hall wind turbine, despite some misgivings about the potential savings in energy costs.
The contractor installing the 120-foot turbine guaranteed the town will recoup its investment in 13 years or he will pay the difference. The guarantee persuaded two skeptics on the board, and selectmen voted 3-2 to move forward after a contentious meeting Tuesday night.
More than 50 supporters of the turbine, upset at perceived delays in the project, rallied in front of Town Hall before the meeting. They held signs demanding selectmen carry out the project, which was approved earlier this year by Town Meeting.
“I’m jubilant they actually agreed to do it and respect the will of Town Meeting,” said David P. Dionne, chairman of the Westport Alternative Energy Committee, after selectmen took he vote.
Selectmen Chairwoman Veronica F. Beaulieu and Selectmen J. Duncan Albert and Steven J. Ouellette voted in favor of signing the contract, while Selectmen Robert P. Rebello and Gary Earle Mauk were opposed. Mr. Mauk has said the proposal is too small and in a poor location for sufficient wind.
“I have no intention of voting for this,” Mr. Mauk said during the meeting.
Town Meeting approved the turbine, which is supposed to power Town Hall, by a vote of 240 in favor and 63 opposed. The selectmen and Finance Committee had recommended against the proposal at the time.
The turbine will cost $63,400. A state grant would cover $45,000, and the town’s savings on electricity bills could make up for the balance of $18,400 in 10 years, according to an analysis by Boreal Renewable Energy Development, conducted for the turbine proponents. The turbine would produce 8,774 kilowatt hours per year, according to the study.
While the latest estimate for payback was 10 years, the guarantee is based on 13 years, the time frame cited at Town Meeting.
Ms. Beaulieu had earlier expressed doubts about whether the town will receive the savings touted by supporters. She said after the meeting she felt more comfortable with the guarantee written into the contract.
“I still have concerns,” she said. “If I feel the concerns are covered in the contract, and the contractor is willing to guarantee people in town will not lose out, I’m going to go ahead.”
Mr. Albert dismissed the proposal as “a feel-good project.”
“I’m not spending town money that may be desperately needed next year when something is frivolous at best,” he said after the meeting. But he agreed to go along with it because of the guaranteed payback.
Selectmen will receive a revised contract, based on Tuesday night’s discussion, at their next meeting so they can sign it.
The contractor, Steve Pitney of Plymouth-based Alternate Energy LLC, said he is guaranting the town will cover its costs in 13 years and will pay the difference if necessary.
Existing wind turbines from Bergey Windpower, the supplier of the turbines Mr. Pitney installs, have run for 20 years without a problem, he said.
“There is a track record,” Mr. Pitney said.
Selectmen voted in September to delay action on the contract so they could hear from Ronald DiPippo, chairman of the Dartmouth Alternative Energy Committee, who had raised questions about whether the proposal is economic. Mr. Ouellette voted against the postponement, arguing it was an unnecessary delay.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, turbine supporters held signs on both sides of Main Road, in front of Town Hall. With slogans, such as “Respect Town Meeting,” the supporters called for action.
“I’m concerned the selectmen are trying to pervert the will of the people,” said turbine supporter Judy Beavan, who feared the skeptical selectmen would sabotage the project.
Tensions ran high from the start of the discussion. Ms. Beaulieu asked some people to leave because she said the crowd had exceeded the maximum occupancy in the meeting room. Her request drew protests from supporters, but they complied and the meeting went forward.
Mr. DiPippo had written in an Aug. 6 guest column in The Standard-Times that small turbines do not make economic sense. It would be better to have turbines near the shoreline or on high hills and mounted on towers between 265 and 330 feet in height, he said.
“It’s a matter of spending the public’s money in a sensible way,” Mr. DiPippo said at the meeting.
Mr. Ouellette said the Dartmouth committee keeps studying the matter and, meanwhile, Dartmouth is shutting off streetlights. An upset Mr. DiPippo walked out of the meeting.
Selectmen voted afterward to send a letter of apology to Mr. DiPippo. Mr. Ouellette cast the lone vote against the letter.
By Brian Boyd
Standard-Times staff writer
10 October 2007
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