PORTSMOUTH – Voters will head to the polls on Nov. 6 and decide whether to support the area’s first municipally owned wind turbine.
The ballot question asks voters to borrow up to $3 million to install a turbine. The town received $2.6 million in zero-interest bonds to fund the project. The additional $400,000, if needed, would be funded by general bonds, incurring $159,375 in interest over the 15 years. Borrowing general bonds would add 8 cents to the tax rate, or an additional $28 in property taxes on a $350,000 home.
The Sustainable Energy Subcommittee of the Economic Development Committee studied four options for installing a wind turbine to reduce school energy costs paid by the town. The scenarios explored the cost and economic benefits to build a 600 kW turbine or a 1.5 MW turbine at the middle school, the same at the high school, or placing turbines at both schools.
The committee hired Applied Technology and Management, Inc. (ATM) which analyzed the purchase of a turbine, its transportation, construction, operation, demolition at the end of its life and added a 10 percent contingency to figure that a 600 kW turbine would cost approximately $2.1 million and a 1.5 MW turbine would be around $3.2 million.
ATM used wind resource data from Portsmouth Abbey’s wind turbine, Raytheon’s meteorological tower and Newport Airport’s weather station to determine that the middle school site has greater average wind speeds, at about seven meters per second, than the high school site. In comparing energy output and costs for a 600 kW and 1.5 MW turbine, ATM projected that a smaller turbine would produce about a $650,000 net profit to the town over its 20-year life but “will likely experience multiple years of negative cash flows, requiring that the project rely on other sources of revenue to support itself and repay project debt.” Whereas a 1.5 MW turbine would have “no years which the annual net cash flow is projected to be negative” and is projected to produce a $3.2 million net benefit to the town over its life.
A 1.5 MW turbine is estimated to generate 957,000 kW/hours of energy annually. The municipality used 4,196,511 kW/hours from 2005 to 2006, which cost $579,202. ATM estimates that a 1.5 MW turbine would generate about 31 percent of the middle school’s power and the remainder would be sold back to the power company in exchange for credits to reduce other municipal building energy costs.
Turbine support and opposition
A survey on wind turbines was answered by 358 residents who overwhelmingly supported installing a turbine, with or without the zero-interest bonds to fund the project.
Town Council President Dennis Canario, speaking on behalf of the Democratic Town Committee, said the group endorses a turbine project because it is predicted to generate enough money to cover the entire project cost and above that to help with other town energy costs, and it produces very little pollution.
“It’s going to save the town money,” Mr. Canario said. “If there’s a way that this town can save money and make money, then, boy, I’m all for it.”
ATM noted several times in its report “that the option of installing a 600 kW turbine at the schools deserves careful scrutiny.”
Richard Talipsky, chairman of the EDC, said the committee recommended going with a 1.5 MW turbine because “it is much more efficient. It has longer blades (which produce more momentum) and works better in lower wind conditions” to fit in with the site’s moderate average wind speeds. “It gets more bang for the buck.”
Portsmouth Concerned Citizens does not support this project, President Lawrence Fitzmorris said, objecting to adding more debt.
“Until we can get our financial house in order, it’s inappropriate to take on more debt,” Mr. Fitzmorris said.
Mr. Fitzmorris added that ATM’s estimate for a 1.5 MW turbine is $200,000 over what the town wants to borrow.
“I’ve never seen a project that’s over cost before we approve it,” Mr. Fitzmorris said.
Mr. Talipsky said that the $3.2 million estimate, based on a 1.5 MW GE model, includes contingency padding.
“We think a request for proposals is going to come in at less than $3 million,” Mr. Talipsky said.
With a turbine installed, the EDC will explore options to enhance this energy source, like acquiring electric vehicles for municipal workers that can be charged by the turbine and powering a nearby Water District pumping station to the turbine.
The revenue generated by a turbine could be even greater than forecasted, Mr. Talipsky said, since turbines typically have an operating life of greater than 25 years, and future legislation could increase the energy credit sold back to the grid.
Mr. Talipsky said he has been working with the school committee to develop a program with schools to use the turbine as a “learning tool for students.”
Timeline and characteristics
If voters approve the project, a request for proposals stating the project scope and funding (up to $3 million) will be issued. The site would be prepared for installation but the EDC said it could take up to Aug. of 2008 before the turbine is delivered and would be commissioned shortly after. A 1.5 MW turbine reaches 80 meters to the hub and its blades are between 40 and 50 meters in length. ATM suggested siting the turbine behind the middle school on the southern side of the property.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Nov. 6 referendum, with three questions on the ballot.
* Should the Town Charter provision for a financial town meeting be amended to a petitioned special election with a question that cites how much the petitioner intends to decrease or increase the town and school budgets, or if the voter wants to keep the budget as adopted?
* Should the town issue bonds and notes up to $3 million to install a wind turbine at the high school and/or middle school?
* Should the town issue bonds and notes up to $4 million to purchase open space land and improve the town’s recreational areas?
By Jill Rodrigues
30 October 2007
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