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Westport wind turbine rebate placed in doubt

WESTPORT – For the Town Hall wind turbine project to survive, supporters will have to overcome the suspension of a critical rebate program.

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative temporarily froze a program that supported small renewable energy projects, pending possible changes. The $63,400 Town Hall project will only go forward if the town secures a $45,000 rebate.

“We’re really not accepting applications right now,” James L. Christo, the collaborative’s program director of green buildings and infrastructure, said in a telephone interview Monday.

The contractor for the Westport Town Hall project, Steve Pitney, said earlier Monday he had not submitted an application because he is waiting to receive a building permit from the town.

The MTC made the decision in light of a consultant’s analysis that showed previously funded wind turbines were producing on average less than a third of the electricity predicted by installers.

The organization will redesign the program, but there is no time frame for relaunching the initiative, Mr. Christo said.

According to the MTC’s Web site, “a ‘new’ project is defined as one that has a signed contract between the installer and the applicant dated after June 13th, 2008.” The MTC would not accept projects under that definition.

Selectmen voted on a contract agreement June 30. However, Mr. Pitney said he will try to convince the MTC the latest agreement is a modification of an earlier version, which selectmen approved May 19 and he signed.

“The MTC knows we have been working on this for a year’s time,” he said.

Selectmen Chairman J. Duncan Albert, who voted for the contract, said he does not know if the town can secure the rebate, though he expected supporters would try.

“The whole project is geared toward the rebate,” Mr. Albert said. “No rebate, no project.”

The wind turbine has inspired a long-running controversy. David P. Dionne, chairman of the Alternative Energy Committee, was unsure what to expect, and he blamed the project’s uncertainty on delays by selectmen.

“If this doesn’t work out, perhaps the energy committee can find something the selectmen could support,” he said.

At their June 30 meeting, selectmen approved changes to the contract in an effort to satisfy concerns raised by a former selectmen chairwoman, Veronica F. Beaulieu.

Ms. Beaulieu filed a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office on May 23 charging that revisions to the agreement with the builder violated state law for awarding contracts by changing the project’s scope without giving other companies a chance to bid on the new proposal.

While not conceding the town’s position, town counsel agreed the final contract would stick to the original proposal – the contractor, rather than the Highway Department, would be responsible for building the turbine’s foundation, and the turbine would help power the Town Hall, not the nearby Highway Department.

By Brian Boyd
Standard-Times staff writer


8 July 2008