WESTERLY – The transfer station is the most suitable location for a wind turbine intended to generate power for operations there as well as for other town facilities, the Alternative Energy Study Committee has concluded.
The committee presented its findings to the Town Council on Monday. The site off Westerly Bradford Road was chosen from a list of seven town-owned sites reviewed by EA Engineering, Science, and Technology Inc. of Warwick.
Jean Gagnier, chairman of the Alternate Energy Study Committee, said that wind levels at the location are adequate, and that it is removed from residential neighborhoods, close to a National Grid substation, and unlikely to cause problems for flight paths to and from Westerly Airport. Another factor in favor of the site is that a solar power project is planned there, Gagnier said.
The committee considered two methods to analyze the cost benefits of a municipal wind turbine – a net present value analysis that accounts for inflation as well as financial returns or savings; and a simple payback analysis that estimates the number of years it would take to recoup the town’s investment.
The committee agreed that a net present value analysis was the best method and used an estimated inflation rate of 2 percent. With a projected cost of $5.7 million, including purchase of the turbine, construction, financing and related costs, none of the seven sites would produce a favorable return, the committee found.
However, Gagnier and other committee members stressed that with a higher rate of inflation the project would be considered cost effective. “A 1 percent difference in inflation would make a tremendous difference,” Gagnier said.
Additionally, Gagnier said, grants of $500,000 or more to apply toward the cost of the project would greatly reduce the town’s financial risk.
The six other sites reviewed by EA Engineering are the town Water Department at 78 White Rock Road; behind the town’s bus depot at 8 Springbrook Road; the Gingeralla Sports Complex at 49 White Rock Road; a Water Department pump house at 20 White Rock Road; the Bradford Preserve on Bradford Road; and the Town Beach on Atlantic Avenue.
Those sites were eliminated due to a variety of concerns, including proximity to residential neighborhoods, distance to electrical substations, forestation, and wetlands problems, Gagnier said.
EA Engineering’s work was paid for with a $25,000 grant from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. in 2008.
James Angelo, the committee’s former chairman, said the committee was originally asked to study putting a wind turbine at the town’s sewage treatment plant on Margin Street, but that site would have interfered with flight paths.
Tom Cook, senior civil engineer with EA Engineering, said his company looked for town-owned sites that were large enough for a wind turbine. The company also studied wind resources, topography, elevation, and environmental issues, including the effect of a turbine on birds as well as sound and visual effects.
Councilor Christopher Duhamel, a civil and environmental engineer, praised the committee for its work and said the study proves a wind turbine would be viable in the town.
Jeffery Broadhead, executive director of the Washington County Regional Planning Council, said his organization was prepared to help the town should it decide to move forward with a wind turbine project. He also said the solar project planned for the transfer station is on hold due to a court case in which National Grid has challenged the legality of electrical metering proposed for a wind turbine project in Portsmouth.
The regional council had been awarded a $750,000 grant to study the feasibility of the solar project, but the state Office of Energy Resources has declined to release the funding because of the court case, Broadhead said.
Town Council President Diana Serra said the town should pursue additional funding for the next phase of a wind turbine study and asked Town Manger Steven Hartford to put the project on future agendas for the council.
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