TIVERTON – The idea of an eight or ten turbine wind farm on Tiverton’s industrial park and nearby properties gained momentum Monday night at a special meeting of the Town Council, which unanimously approved moving ahead with further study.
According to the motion that was approved by the council, the next steps include developing formal specifications for the project, creating a legal framework for ownership of the turbines and revenue sharing, and finding renewable energy funds to pay for the whole thing —“to minimize costs to member communities,” read the motion.
A last paragraph to the council’s unanimous “endorsement” said that the council’s action “does not constitute final commitment to the project nor obligate Tiverton to additional financial support to EBEC.”
That paragraph closed by providing that the town had to be satisfied with the compensation it would get and that environmental concerns would be met.
Although approval was emphatic, there were plenty of questions – costs, sharing, benefits, noise, shadow-flicker, wind speed and availability, fall zones and safety, and economic impacts among them.
A grant of $335,000 to the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC) from the state Economic Development Corporation (EDC) will fund the next tasks needed to answer questions and bring the idea closer to fruition.
Tiverton is one of nine East Bay Communities participating in the Consortium. At the end of September, a feasibility study presented to the council by Garry Plunkett, the town’s representative to the consortium, had shown that the wind farm is feasible.
The industrial park site had emerged as the best location for a project of this magnitude. “No other site even came close,” Mr. Plunkett said then.
The concept is supported by recent legislation that encourages communities to pool renewable energy authorizations each has (up to 3.5 megawatts for each community), to share costs, and to share the benefits of placing wind turbines in one or more East Bay locations.
Council chambers were nearly filled. For about half an hour, audience members saw a slide show presentation by Daniel Mendelsohn, a senior principal with Applied Science Associates (ASA), the consulting group hired by EBEC.
Next council members peppered Mr. Mendelsohn with questions. At one point a member of the public jumped in to ask about bonds, and got gaveled down by Council President Bollin. “This isn’t a public hearing,” he said.
Soon questions were flying in from all sides, with Mr. Mendelsohn fielding most of them, Mr. Plunkett by his side.
Council President Donald Bollin quickly threw in the towel. Even though this isn’t a public hearing, he said, we’re going to allow questions from the public.
Among the issues that arose during the free-flowing hour-long discussion were:
• Do the benefits of the project to the town of Tiverton outweigh the risks? “What are we giving up versus what are we getting?” said council member Louise Durfee.
• What’s a fair return on the dollar for Tiverton to expect for hosting the wind farm? $100,000 per year? More? Or less? What kind of leverage does Tiverton have, and what kind of flexibility do other towns have, or would residents of those towns permit, in meeting Tiverton’s expectations?
• Estimates at this stage are crude, but project costs range from $50 to $62 million, and net benefits would range over 20 years from $23 to $39 million.
• Would turbine towers near buildings that might be located on the Industrial Park land endanger the buildings and discourage buyers and builders?
• Wind speed increases the higher up you go, so a taller tower (e.g. 100 meters) is more efficient than a shorter tower (e.g. 80 meters), by 30 percent, said Mr. Mendelsohn.
• The life expectancy of a wind turbine is roughly 20 years, Mr. Mendelsohn said.
• Newer tower technology is making towers quieter, Mr. Mendelsohn said.
• Because of the sun’s path, shadow flicker is more of a problem to residents north of a turbine tower than it is to residents in other directions.
• A next step, for a cost of around $16,000, is to conduct wind speed and direction tests by installing what a “met-tower” (meteorological tower).
• If bonding were to become necessary to fund the project, revenue bonds, not general obligation bonds, would likely be the preferred vehicle, said council member Durfee and others.
• Noise will be a significant issue, especially with respect to towers that might be located north of the Ranger Elementary School and nearby residential areas. ‘The people who live in that area have to be satisfied that the noise will not adversely affect them. This is an issue and I don’t want to sit here and say it’s not,” said Ms. Durfee.
• How will the revenues be shared by the communities? Mr. Plunkett partly answered this question, by saying the distribution of revenues would be in proportion to the contribution each town made of its allowable energy capacity.
• “How much of the industrial park gets tied up so we can’t use it?” asked Mr. Bollin. A proposal is currently circulating in town to subdivide the industrial park for light commercial and industrial development.
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