In the latest twist to the Jamestown wind turbine saga, the Town Council this week endorsed an education campaign to ensure that a referendum seeking millions in turbine financing is defeated on Nov. 2.
The council met on Monday, Oct. 4. The referendum was one of two turbine-related issues on the agenda, with the other an update on site evaluation – which included some potentially deal-breaking news.
The news, said Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, is that Jamestown would have to spend “tens of thousands of dollars” for National Grid to determine if Jamestown power lines have the capacity to handle the surge of electricity from a 1.65- to 2.0-megawatt turbine.
“In his conversations with National Grid,” Keiser said, “Town Engineer Mike Gray learned that there would be significant costs for an impact study on a tie-in because [the town electrical grid] is intended for a very light load, and the power lines have never been upgraded.”
It is impossible to predict the extent of any upgrades that National Grid would require for a tie-in. But council member Bill Murphy warned that the cost to replace the 4.16-kilovolt power lines could be enormous.
Council member Bob Bowen, who served on the town’s Wind Energy Committee, said that he had raised the power-line issue during meetings of the panel. Nevertheless, the consultancy that performed a feasibility study for the town did not identify power-line capacity as a question mark deserving a solid answer before any further steps to construct a turbine were taken. According to the Wind Power Feasibility study, the impact of the 2.0-megawatt wind turbine generator on the 4.16 system may require National Grid system upgrades. Further, while it remains uncertain at present, this impact will be evaluated as part of National Grid’s generator interconnection application process, the study said. If the 4.16 kV system is unable to accommodate the turbine’s output, alternative interconnection plans will be evaluated, which may include making the 4.16 kV system improvements as necessary to alleviate the system impacts, according to the study.
There are other questions that have to be answered, as well. For example: What is the actual cost of tying a turbine into the town grid?
“Mike Gray is learning that the estimates we have – $400,000 for Ft. Getty [with above-ground power lines] and $250,000 are very, very low,” Keiser said.
Another question is the maximum height of a wind turbine that wouldn’t run afoul of Federal Aviation Administration guidelines on electromagnetic interference with airplane instruments. It was this particular issue that led the FAA to reject the Taylor Point location for a 410-foot-high turbine.
Under the guidelines, the maximum height of a Taylor Point turbine would be 350 feet; at Ft. Getty, it would be 392 feet. It would cost $8,000 to run the modeling necessary to challenge the height restriction at Taylor Point (as opposed to the $36,000 that the town had previously been told), and “additional modeling would be necessary” to support a Ft. Getty turbine taller than 392 feet, Keiser told the council.
Given all these uncertainties – and the potential costs to resolve them – a withdrawal of the Nov. 2 referendum proposing up to $6.5 million in bond financing to build a Taylor Point turbine is the logical next step.
Unfortunately, the state will not allow the town to rescind the ballot question because it was enabled by legislation. So, the question will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot – although its enactment would not bind the town to issue the bond. However, to avoid enactment altogether, the council decided to launch a campaign against the ballot question, passing a motion that directs council President Mike Schnack to draft a letter stating the reasons why town residents should vote down the ballot question.
The letter will be submitted for publication to the Press. Schnack also raised the prospect of enlisting volunteers to hand out copies of the letter at town polling places.
The Town Council also devised a game plan to address a far more intractable controversy – the future of Ft. Getty. Rather than proceeding to votes on various recommendations on the table – including those proposed in several versions of the Ft. Getty Master Plan – council members decided to launch a three-step process to gauge the opinions of island residents. The process will involve three separate workshops.
In the first workshop, residents will be invited to express their views and ideas. In the second, the council will address all the ideas, project their costs and review their benefits (including revenue potential). In the third workshop, the most viable ideas will be presented graphically on a map of the park.
The council may hire a facilitator to run the workshops. Town Planner Lisa Bryer said the facilitation fee would fall in a range $5,000 to $10,000, adding that the fee range does not include the cost of graphic representations for the final workshop.
Bryer also suggested the town hire a facilitator with a professional planning background. Council members will decide if they want a facilitator, and whether they want someone with a planning background, at the next meeting.
It’s likely that a workshop will also be held on the future of town properties at Ft. Wetherill. Keiser informed the council that the Newport Appraisal Group has assessed the properties at a total market value of $2.24 million. The assessment, which will be available to the public, breaks out the market value of Parcel B – the waterfront parcel that includes the old highway barn – at $1.14 million. The vacant land to the west, which is known as Parcel A, was valued at $590,000.
The 45-page assessment also breaks out potential leasing options. Keiser said that Tax Assessor Ken Gray “felt that the valuations were low,” adding that the Dept. of Environmental Management “still has an interest” in purchasing the property – particularly Parcel B. The council members, who received the appraisal on the day of the meeting, will likely schedule a Ft. Wetherill discussion for their next meeting.
Also at the next meeting, Councilor Ellen Winsor plans to offer a motion against the lingering presence of an “Advisory Regarding Ellen Winsor and the Weaver’s Cove LNG Proposal” on a town website.
The advisory, which was sent to R.I. municipalities and the state congressional delegation, warns the recipients that Winsor and her LNG Working Group – which sought regional adoption of its resolution against the Weaver’s Cove proposal to build a liquefi ed natural gas terminal in Mt. Hope Bay – do not represent the town of Jamestown. The advisory was originally posted on the Jamestown home page; it now resides on the page set aside for the town’s LNG Threat Committee.
In related news, Winsor advised the council that the LNG Working Group had submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a package of 24 resolutions opposing the Weaver’s Cove proposal. Twenty-two of the resolutions, including Jamestown’s, tracked the original document drafted by the LNG Working Group (with Middletown and Swansea having drafted resolutions of their own). The most recent signatory to the Working Group resolution was Gov. Donald Carcieri, Winsor said. Copies of the signed resolutions are available at www.lngwg. com.
The next council meeting will be held on Oct. 18.