NORTH SMITHFIELD – Thanks to a new ruling from the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers – considered a game-changer for towns looking to invest in wind turbines – a deal is said to be in the works once again for a Dowling Village turbine.
Additionally, the North Smithfield Land Trust has secured again a $400,000 Department of Environmental Management open space grant, a 50 percent match toward the land surrounding Booth Pond where it would be located.
“The stumbling block last time was the delay in the wind turbine agreement between the town and a wind developer that would pay for debt on the town-required match for the project, along with a legal challenge to wind development in Portsmouth that delayed wind projects everywhere in the state,” said Caroly Shumway, member of the North Smithfield Land Trust. “As a result of the delay, the grant period expired, and the Land Trust had to relinquish the (original) grant.”
The Portsmouth case began in May 2010 after a Newport ratepayer filed a complaint about the town’s net metering system. The ratepayer complained that Portsmouth was receiving a better net metering rate for its power than the ratepayers.
The Division of Public Utilities and Carriers ruled in October of this year that the town had not been charging too much for the wind turbine electricity it sold back to the grid.
“The rules of the game have changed,” said North Smithfield Town Planner Robert Ericson last week.
The decision in the Portsmouth case, he said, means that municipalities don’t have to directly net meter the electricity that would come from the turbine. The town is currently waiting for a brand new turbine proposal from Dowling Village developer Brian Bucci, which Ericson said he expects “anytime now.”
“We have two years to make this happen again,” Shumway said. “First we have to get a (purchase and sales agreement) signed, and then work out the wind turbine deal again. The good news is that all players are very interested in making this happen.”
Last December, town officials considered the turbine deal “a dead issue.”
The Valley Breeze reported in November 2010 that Dowling Village Wind and RAM Investments, headed by incoming Woonsocket City Councilor Albert Brien, could not reach an investment agreement.
The previous North Smithfield Town Council, which aimed to purchase open space in the Dowling Village mixed-use development for the turbine, left its spot at the bargaining table for the current council to take over if the investors ever reached the agreement.
Phase IV of the Dowling Village project, which was originally slated for a 76-unit condominium complex, would be used instead as a home for the turbine.
In September of last year, the town began to discuss purchasing open space in the Dowling Village mixed-use development for the turbine, attempting to negotiate two purchase-and-sales agreements so the town and the North Smithfield Land Trust could jointly preserve 40 acres adjacent to the southeast corner of Booth Pond. The town would separately own 2.5 acres of land for the turbine and lease it to the developers.
The $7-million turbine was slated to supply electricity to tenants of Dowling Village by creating power in the range of 3 million to 4 million kilowatt hours per year.
Under this plan, the town would have paid for the 40 acres of open space by tapping $525,000 from an already-approved open space bond. The debt would have been repaid during a period of 20 years using a portion of the $40,000-per-year lease payments from the developer to the town, passed through RAM Investments.
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