KINGSTON – As part of her plan to install wind turbines on 105 acres of gravel pit that might have been 1021 Kingston’s Place, Mary O’Donnell wants the town to ask state legislators to protect her facility from what she calls unfair connection fees charged by NStar.
She also wants the town to enter a metering agreement with her, which she says would provide her with a better rate when selling power to NStar. It would also allow the town to make a profit on managing the transactions, she said, which the town would be doing anyway with its own solar and wind facilities. The town would basically act as a middle-man, managing the sale of power generated by O’Donnell’s turbines and turning over the profit to her, after taking a management fee.
Selectmen have been hesitant to go along with O’Donnell’s proposals, particularly the Home Rule petition that would prevent NStar from charging the town or “any interconnecting customers within the town of Kingston” to connect generation facilities smaller than 30 megawatts to the grid, according to the wording of the petition.
The board did not vote on O’Donnell’s Home Rule petition two weeks ago, but that does not prevent her from gathering signatures and presenting the petition as an article at the annual Town Meeting next spring. O’Donnell originally asked selectmen to call a special Town Meeting to debate the petition.
A Home Rule petition is a request made to the state Legislature by a municipality to perform a service, make certain transactions, or do anything that towns are not specifically permitted to do under state law. Cities and towns also act through local governmental bodies that possess only the authority granted to them by the commonwealth over local issues, including limited home rule authority.
When developers decided to jump ship on 1021 Kingston’s Place in February, after several legal battles with abutters, O’Donnell changed tactics and decided to develop a wind farm on the site.
Since then, Town Meeting has approved her petition to expand the wind energy zoning overlay district from the transfer station and landfill to include O’Donnell’s property. Town Meeting also created a solar overlay district that encompasses both the town’s and O’Donnell’s land.
Tuesday night, selectmen voted to allow O’Donnell to move forward and begin negotiating with the town on a metering agreement, but Selectman Joseph Casna said he still has several questions regarding her plan.
“We haven’t locked down any numbers as far as compensation, but long term, it looks like a very good arraignment for the O’Donnell family,” Casna said. “Once you whittle the costs down to just maintenance, they would make a lot of money.”
Casna said he needs to be sure that any contract the town signs with O’Donnell will include protections against liabilities. The cost of such a contract could be high for the town, he surmised, and include such things as insurance premiums, and handling and monitoring the transactions. He said it would have to be proven that the town could make money on the deal before signing a contract.
O’Donnell asked for the contract because a municipality would get a better rate on power generation than a small private entity, Casna said.
“We would get a better arrangement for our own energy that she would get,” Casna said. “There’s no harm in that, but her project would generate so many megawatts of power, and if by merging with us she can get more compensation that makes sense for her.”
The question remains, Casna pointed out, whether such an arraignment would make sense for the town.
Highlights of O’Donnell’s Home Rule Petition
This Home Rule petition, if enacted, would prevent NStar from passing on the costs of interconnecting wind and solar net metering facilities to the town or others in Kingston who are developing wind and solar projects in cooperation with the town.
This Home Rule petition would allow up to 30 megawatts of renewable energy to be interconnected to the electrical grid at no cost to the town or the town’s project partners.
This would enable the town to do more solar and wind projects and, thereby, reduce the town’s energy costs while increasing the amount of renewable energy it produces.
When a new energy generation facility connects to the grid, the distribution company (in this case, NStar) is generally entitled to make the “interconnecting customer” pay for system upgrades that NStar believes are necessary to accommodate the additional electricity generation on that portion of the grid.
The problem is, according to Mary O’Donnell, that NStar sometimes wields that authority like a club and stifles development of renewable energy projects by requiring upgrades that may not be necessary and, regardless, imposing costs on projects that kill the project economics.
This is despite the fact that the system upgrades often benefit not only the interconnecting customer but really everybody who uses the grid.
The proposed special legislation would prevent NStar from charging the town and other interconnecting customers in Kingston for system upgrades.
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