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Change of course for Whalerock wind project

CHARLESTOWN – The developers of a proposed wind turbine development off Route 1 have withdrawn their partnership agreement with the town, and plan to seek approval for the project from the town’s Planning Commission and the Zoning Board.

Michael Carlino, project manager for Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC, said Friday that the outcome of last week’s election has changed the course and economics of the $10.5 million project. The town clerk’s office received a letter from Whalerock’s attorney, Nicholas Gorham, on Wednesday announcing the decision.

Plans call for the construction of two, 1.8-megawatt wind turbines that would rise 262 feet in the air – with blades spinning as high as 410 feet – on 81 acres between King’s Factory Road and East Quail Run. Carlino and his father-in-law, Larry LeBlanc, had hoped to have the structures up and running by next summer.

Under the town’s wind ordinance, the Town Council is the sole permitting authority for wind turbine projects. But more than two dozen property owners who live near LeBlanc’s land filed a lawsuit against the town last month, seeking a stop to hearings on Whalerock’s plan – and a repeal of the wind ordinance itself, which was enacted in January.

Residents alleged that the Town Council illegally usurped the authority of the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board, a charge echoed by three Town Council candidates backed by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance – two of whom were elected Tuesday.

Carlino said he’s open to negotiations with the council on a new partnership agreement, though the prospect seems unlikely.

“The dynamic of the Town Council has dramatically changed,” he said. “I don’t really know how they feel. If they wanted to open up new negotiations, we’d be willing to talk to them.”

“The top two candidates [councilors-elect Thomas Gentz and Daniel Slattery], they don’t seem to be in favor of the project,” Carlino continued. “The bottom two candidates [incumbents Marjorie Frank and Gregory Avedisian] were. Ms. [Lisa] DiBello, I have no idea really. She never commented publicly on her position, or what she thought about the project or renewable energy.”

With its timeline now uncertain, Carlino said the project won’t benefit from federal renewable energy tax credits – worth $2 million to $2.5 million – because they’re set to expire at the end of December. The turbines won’t be approved by then, he said, and an extension of the tax credit program is in doubt now that Republicans are the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“From our perspective, it’s obviously going to be more expensive to do the project,” Carlino said. “Economically, we have to look at how it’s going to work. There’s no advantage to do a partnership with the town. It’s money out the door at this point.”

“Now it’s just going to be like any other business going through planning and zoning – the regular channel,” he added. “We’re still hopeful it can go through, but now it’s a slower process.”

Reached in the July, Whalerock’s partnership agreement with the town gave Charlestown a 2-percent royalty on gross revenues from the turbines, estimated between $24,000 and $33,000 annually. However, a power-purchase agreement with National Grid, the region’s dominant utility, has not been reached.

Carlino said LeBlanc will pursue development in some form on the 81-acre property, which had previously been eyed for a 125-unit condo development.

“If it comes to a point where we hit a roadblock, certainly Mr. LeBlanc will look at other alternatives,” Carlino said. “He’s a developer. He’s thinking about what else can be done if this does hit a dead end.”

James Donnelly, the attorney for residents who are opposing the project, said the group won’t proceed with its preliminary injunction request. A hearing before Washington County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear, scheduled for Monday morning, has been cancelled.

“If they’re not proceeding at this time, we’re going to hold it in abeyance and see what happens,” Donnelly said.