Funding for an island-wide wind power feasibility study may be on the horizon as the state appears ready to ease restrictions on a previously awarded $750,000 wind turbine grant to the town.
The Town Council met Monday with representatives of the Washington County Regional Planning Council. The council’s Executive Director Jeff Broadhead explained that the state has expressed a willingness to allow the town to use federal grant money to pay for a development study before committing to a turbine.
New Shoreham was one of three Rhode Island towns to be awarded $750,000 each in federal stimulus money in July to erect a municipal-scale turbine. However, the town was reluctant to accept the money and make any commitment to install a turbine without a comprehensive feasibility study.
The grant can fund no more than 25 percent of a project, meaning the project’s total cost would have to exceed $3 million. Westerly was given grant money to pursue a 12-acre solar array and Charlestown received the same amount to install two municipal turbines.
The town has been in negotiations with the state since the grant was awarded seeking permission to use some of the money for a feasibility study. According to Broadhead there was a “breakthrough” with the state last week.
Another concern yet to be fully addressed is a “clawback” clause that would require the town to repay any grant money expended if a turbine never materializes. Broadhead said that he was optimistic the clawback language would be removed from the final grant agreement, though he did not have that in writing yet. First Warden Kim Gaffett said that the town would not accept the grant money if a clawback provision was included.
The council had also asked if the grant money could be used to fund several solar projects rather than a turbine, which the state refused to allow. However, island resident Elliot Taubman suggested the town use the feasibility money to perform a more comprehensive energy study including comparisons between wind, solar and co-generation on the island.
The timeframe for the town to take advantage of the grant money is quickly passing. The stimulus funds are set to expire in just over a year and the town will lose the money if it isn’t expended by that time.
Broadhead said that doesn’t mean the town would necessarily have to build a turbine within a year. He explained that by using a power purchase agreement with an outside company the town could use the grant money as a downpayment toward the installation.
However, the town would have to move forward with the feasibility study quickly. The council voted to ask the town’s Electric Utility Task Group to develop a feasibility study budget at its next meeting. The group has already put together a proposed budget for the town but will review its plans.
Block Island, along with nine other towns in southern Rhode Island, is moving forward with another grant project to perform energy audits on municipal buildings. Representatives of NORESCO – a New England based Energy Service Company – met with the council Monday before performing a preliminary review of eight town buildings.
The program is part of another Washington County Regional Planning Council grant that provided funds to have the audits performed. NORESCO was selected by representatives from the towns who sit on the council and will be working on the project over the next several months.
Two other audits were conducted in previous years. However, this year’s audit will include the school, a major energy user that was not included in the previous studies.
The goal of the audits is to identify building improvements to boost energy efficiency while paying for the changes with the savings. According to NORESCO senior account executive John Kauppinen there will be no out-of-pocket costs for the town. If the savings don’t cover the cost of the improvements as predicted NORESCO makes up the difference.
The audits began with the larger town buildings including Town Hall, the sewer plant, the water plant, the fire/rescue barn, the Medical Center, the library and the beach pavilion and may move on to smaller town-owned buildings in the future.
Improvements commonly suggested include more efficient lighting, newer boilers and improved insulation. Once the audit results are in the town will decide what upgrades it would like to make.
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