BREWSTER – Plans for municipal wind turbines in Orleans, Wellfleet, Harwich, Brewster and Dennis haven’t produced any electricity yet, but they’ve kicked up enough controversy that the Barnstable Assembly of Delegates is now going to investigate the two sponsoring agencies.
Turbines foes have turned their spotlight on Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative and their financier, the Cape Light Compact.
On Wednesday Eric Bibler, president of Save Our Sea Shores, and Preston Ribnick, co-founder of WindWise Cape Cod, presented the Assembly with a laundry list of complaints and concerns. After an extremely close vote, the delegates agreed to have a subcommittee (possibly comprising all the delegates) look into the agencies.
Complaint: records requests ignored
“Key officials refused to answer questions on substantive matters. They refused to set up meetings or disclose public documents,” Ribnick told the delegates. “They used executive sessions in an inappropriate manner.”
“I’ve never seen a project where the set of estimates about future performance was proprietary and confidential,” Bibler said. “I think the citizens of Barnstable County are entitled to all those things. I asked in as many ways as I knew how.”
He said his records requests were ignored and then he was told it would cost over $10,000 to obtain documents pertaining to bond funding. Bibler also alleged over $2 million has been transferred from CLC to CVEC and much of that was undisclosed.
Brewster selectman Ed Lewis charged that the complaints are motivated by opposition the Brewster wind project.
“This is all about one thing. It’s about Brewster Wind,” said Lewis. “The rest is a subterfuge. The question we have is why are certain individuals so inclined to create a need for documents if not for Brewster Wind.”
Ribnick and Bibler said they attended many CVEC meetings, but were thwarted in their efforts to obtain information.
“Preston, Sheila (Bowen) and I spent hours in the lobby because they saved open meeting for after executive session, we believe to discourage us,” Bibler said.
“From the audience the only way to ask questions was on three-by-five cards with no follow-up,” Ribnick said. “We also looked into the past projects’ sources of funding and the major source of funding was from the Cape Light Compact.”
CVEC was the financial backer of failed turbine proposals in Orleans, Wellfleet and Harwich and is currently supporting the Brewster selectmen in their efforts to build two turbines off Freeman’s Way.
“We made a serious effort to understand the structure and overlapping managements of CLC and CVEC,” Ribnick said.
“We became increasingly alarmed and concerned with the reactions, behaviors and resistance exhibited by county officials and representatives of CLC and CVEC,” Ribnick explained. “I believe citizens have rights in our democracy. As citizens we expect a full accounting of all expenditures of public funds.”
The agencies share several members and officers, who also work for Barnstable County. The CLC was formed in 1997 as a municipal aggregator that can purchase power at lower rates for customers in the municipality (Barnstable County and the Vineyard in this case). They also help provide energy audits and purchase energy efficient equipment. They’re funded by a surcharge on county electric bills.
Maggie Downy is the compact administrator. She is also the clerk for CVEC. CVEC is a co-operative formed in 2007 by the CLC, Barnstable County and the town of Barnstable. Since then 15 other towns and Dukes County have joined with the goal of financing public power generating facilities at low (zero percent) interest rates.
Ribnick and Bibler alleged there are several conflicts of interest involving the overlapping county and agency officials.
Bibler said he looked through the minutes of various meetings.
“I found a lot of discussion about clean renewable energy bonds (CREB’s) that lent money at zero percent interest,” Bibler said. “It is impossible to tell if the economic viability of the (Brewster wind) project depends on zero percent financing.”
If the CREB’s financing falls through CVEC would seek funding through the Rural Electric Utilities Service at four and a quarter percent interest, Bibler said.
Ron Bergstrom, speaker of the Assembly of Delegates, noted that CLC is a branch of county government but CVEC is not so their ability to investigate may be limited.
“What is the role of the AOD in this controversy?” he asked. “We have the right to investigate any aspect of county government.”
The delegates debated whether to form a committee to investigate the concerns or to postpone action until they heard from the CLC and CVEC.
“I believe we have an obligation to move forward and I think the easiest way to do it is with a subcommittee,” said Leo Cakounes, the Harwich delegate who made the motion.
“I am concerned about the excessive use of executive session,” noted Truro delegate Deborah McCutcheon,” and conditions on what is accountable to the public and the response to records requests.”
“I’m confused. If we go down this path what exactly are we doing?” asked delegate Marcia King of Mashpee. “Maybe we should ask CVEC and CLC to come and do a presentation also.”
The vote was close, with Barnstable delegate Tom Lynch, who controls 21 percent of the votes, abstaining and others absent, but the motion to form an investigative committee passed 29.53 percent to 27.66 percent with delegates from Bourne, Provincetown, Chatham, Harwich, Sandwich and Truro in favor.
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