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Wind turbine deal in No. Smithfield could include multiple communities

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A Dowling Village wind turbine has been churning up talk for the last year, but now officials are saying their new aim may be to go after a multi-municipal agreement to give some affluent neighboring communities the best deal on renewable energy.

In a preliminary discussion with the Town Council at its regular Monday meeting, Town Planner Robert Ericson and Terra Renewable Energy Partners Chief Technical Officer Eric Offenberg have said they hope to approach Lincoln and Smithfield.

The rules for wind energy have changed, Offenberg said. Now the state not only allows public-private partnerships for renewable energy projects, but it also allows multi-municipal agreements. The town also has the option of selling energy back to National Grid.

But the council agreed they would likely allow Ericson and the town administration to go forward in seeking interest from the two towns after the finance director, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, is able to provide potential risks to a multi-municipal deal.

In the long run, Offenberg claims it will be able to settle on a better price for energy, therefore saving a few million dollars during the first few years.

“The towns get the best deal if they take all of that energy,” said Offenberg.

The turbine, which has the potential to be 496 feet high and generate about 5 million kilowatt-hours, is estimated to cost between $5 million and $6 million.

When Town Council President Edward Yazbak asked how the town would approach its neighbors and if it would ask “all of them,” Ericson cautiously noted that any communities that weren’t considered financially stable were not a good pick for a renewable energy deal.

“What are you trying to say?” Yazbak said with a chuckle.

Ericson replied, “I don’t think I can say it subtly.”

That neighbor that would likely be left out in that scenario is Woonsocket, which aside from having to use a $13 million deficit funding bond last year is currently in hot water with the state for a smaller Fiscal Year 2011 deficit in the Education Department.

It’s imperative, Ericson said, that the communities entering into the deal have a decent bond rating so when the town goes out for financing for the project, there won’t be any complications.

In July 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration sank Smithfield’s hopes of its own 400-plus-foot wind turbine, saying it was a hazard to aviation. FAA representatives told Smithfield officials it would not consider approving any structure higher than 85 feet, which effectively killed the proposal.

Ericson said the town may be open to consuming some of North Smithfield’s renewable energy.

The North Smithfield Land Trust secured a $400,000 Department of Environmental Management open space grant this year, with a 50 percent match toward the land surrounding Booth Pond where the turbine would be located.

Many of the same players involved with the previous proposal for a wind turbine last year are expected to be involved, including Brian Bucci, developer of Dowling Village, and RAM Investments, headed by current Woonsocket City Councilor Albert Brien. Under the previous proposal, the town would have paid for the 40 acres of open space near Booth Pond 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. 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.