December 16, 2010
Rhode Island

Wind turbine study nixed by Town Council

By Phil Zahodiakin, The Jamestown Press, 16 December 2010

The Jamestown Town Council voted down a motion on Dec. 13 that would have directed Town Administrator Bruce Keiser to select and hire the contractors necessary to prepare the technical paperwork required for a turbine-interconnection study by National Grid.

Keiser would have also had to appeal a height restriction handed down by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Councilor Bob Bowen offered the motion, which would have limited the total cost for the work, along with the $2,500 National Grid filing fee, to $30,000.

Although Keiser has several bids in hand, he is waiting for a couple more. Bowen, however, argued that “we haven’t gained anything by waiting, and we need to make sure that we have the data” on interconnection costs that the Council will use to decide if the town should proceed with, or drop, the turbine project.

The motion was defeated by a 3-2 vote. Bowen and Mike White supported it; Bill Murphy, Ellen Winsor and President Michael Schnack opposed it.

Does that mean the turbine is dead? Not necessarily. Once Keiser has the remaining bids, it is likely he will present them to the Council and another vote will be taken – probably at the first meeting of 2011, which will be held on Jan. 3. However, it was clear from a marathon discussion on the Taylor Point proposal that there are still many concerns about the suitability of the site and the costs of the project.

As Wind Energy Committee member Bucky Brennan put it, the renewed debate on old and fresh concerns threatens to kill “a big project with a thousand nicks.”

White seemed to agree. Responding to a discussion on the costs of running a second circuit from Taylor Point to the Clarke Street substation, he said, “We’re not exploring new areas. Except for the FAA ruling, [all the issues] should have been expected. The cost of the National Grid study is part of the process. We shouldn’t be entirely shocked.”

The National Grid study, which will provide an estimate of the costs to run a second circuit and possibly upgrade the substation, will be derived from the schematic design of the proposed turbine interconnection prepared by a consultant.

A second circuit from Taylor Point to Clarke Street would travel about 1.65 miles – assuming there isn’t a way to run the circuit across Jamestown Golf Course – and require the replacement of numerous utility poles to accommodate higher-voltage lines with a gap from the standard lines running below them.

Discrete wiring will be necessary only if the town seeks to build a turbine more powerful than one megawatt because National Grid will not estimate the costs of connecting such a turbine directly to power lines with the capacity of those in Jamestown.

The Council previously endorsed a 1.65-megawatt turbine, but there has also been a hypothetical discussion of a much smaller Taylor Point turbine whose output would be used to power the sewage treatment plant – with any excess sold to the Grid.

“The $300,000 cost for an interconnection estimate is not included in the financial models,” Schnack said, referring to the wind-energy feasibility study performed by a consultant. “The models include the $750,000 [in federal stimulus-grant money], but the $500,000 [in potential state-grant money] is gone, so the economics of the models have changed significantly. We’ve added $800,000 to this project through addition and loss, and I am skeptical that the project could be completed by March 2012.”

If the project weren’t completed by the deadline, Jamestown would probably lose the $750,000 federal grant.

Schnack also raised concerns about the aesthetic consequences of clearing the wooded area around the treatment plant, which, he pointed out, would be necessary for a staging area during construction and throughout the life of the turbine for maintenance purposes. “If we go forward with the project and the added costs,” he said, “we will also add a view of our beautiful treatment plant.”

Regarding the potential loss of federal grant money, Keiser pointed out that the tax deal proposed by the Obama Administration includes an amendment to fund 30 percent of renewable energy projects, although the money would be available only to private renewable-energy developers.

Concerning the gaps in the feasibility study, Brennan said, “We could plug in the $300,000 and get [an adjusted profit projection] to you quickly. It’s totally do-able.”

In an earlier public comment, Brennan alluded to the unexpected FAA rejection of a 410-foot high turbine at Taylor Point. He asked if the town was considering litigation against the consultant, because of the apparent omission of a potential FAA roadblock at Taylor Point.

When the Town Solicitor Wyatt Brochu declined to comment, Brennan said, “It would be my hope that we don’t pursue litigation against that firm. I am familiar with the construct of their study, and [litigation] would not be a good use of public funds.”

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