The proposal for a town-owned wind turbine came one step closer to reality this week, but it still has a long way to go.
Townspeople won’t see the 339-foot tower rise in the sky – it will be visible from Route 24 – until late this year or early next year.
On Monday, the Town Council approved a contract with WindSmart not to exceed $3 million to erect the 1.5-megawatt tower on the grounds of the high school, rather than the middle school, as originally planned.
The Federal Aviation Administration has turned thumbs down on the middle school site off Jepson Lane.
The FAA said the tower would lie in the flight path for Newport State Airport in Middletown.
More recently, the FAA has said that it is inclined to approve locating the tower on land north of the high school, according to Gary Gump, a spokesman for the volunteer committee that is shepherding the wind-energy proposal through the planning stages.
But the FAA must still formally grant permission for the tower.
And the project must obtain an opinion from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, because the site is on the grounds of Fort Butts, which figured in the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. The site, where only earth works of the original fort survive, is named on the National Register of Historic Places
It is not yet clear whether the commission could block the selection of the site or whether its opinion would strictly be advisory, according to Gary Crosby, assistant town planner.
Gump, meanwhile, said that before the installation can begin, borings of the earth beneath the tower will be taken to determine whether the geological structure is firm enough to support the wind generator.
Once the aviation, historic, and geological issues are resolved, the wind energy subcommittee of the town Economic Development Committee can place the order for the wind tower.
The foundation would be put in during the summer, but the components of the generator would not arrive in Portsmouth until November or December at the earliest, Gump said. Installation would take about five days, he said.
Despite voters’ approval of a $3-million bond issue last November to pay for the wind tower, Gump faced a lot of second-guessing when he made his presentation to the Town Council on Monday night.
Two of the seven council members, Karen Gleason and Peter J. McIntyre, voted against the contract, with Gleason saying she needed more information, in writing, on the savings expected from the wind generator.
An engineering study presented to voters has projected that the turbine will more than pay for itself during its 20-year lifespan. The study covered the possibility of locating the tower at the high school as well as the middle school.
Gump said the economic projections are not significantly affected by relocating the project to the high school, since that site is expected to generate about 95 percent of the electricity that would be made if it were at the middle school.
Gump said the generator will supply all the electricity needed by the high school, which now costs the town $100,000 a year.
The turbine also will produce excess electricity which National Grid must buy from the town for the wholesale rate, he said.
Gleason asked why National Grid would buy from the town “when they can get it elsewhere cheaper.”
“They have to buy it because it is state law,” Gump replied.
Gleason repeated the question several times, and Gump reiterated his answer, adding, finally, “I can put that in writing.”
But Gleason continued. “I’m concerned that National Grid would put themselves in a position to lose,” she said.
Town Council President Dennis M. Canario ended the discussion.
“They’re buying it wholesale and selling at retail, so they won’t lose,” he said.
“We’ve already been through this,” Canario said.
By Gina Macris
Journal Staff Writer
12 March 2008
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