Town hires legal expert to review wind power proposal
Credit: By DALE P. FAULKNER / Sun Staff Writer, The Westerly Sun | www.thewesterlysun.com 14 June 2012 ~~
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WESTERLY – The Town Council will hire a lawyer to review a proposed power purchase agreement and lease with the North Kingstown company that wants to erect two wind turbines in Bradford.
The council reached unanimous consensus during a special meeting Wednesday to hire Seth Handy, a Providence attorney with expertise in environmental law, to review the agreement proposed by the company, WED Westerly LLC, an affiliate of Wind Energy Development.
The council also agreed to schedule an informational meeting in Bradford in the coming weeks before it votes on a resolution to approve a 20-year power purchase agreement and lease with WED Westerly. The company, selected by the council as the town’s wind energy partner, has proposed erecting two 450-foot tall wind turbines on a wooded area of the Bradford Preserve and an adjacent town-owned site off Old Carriage Road.
The company has promised to produce enough electricity to serve all of the electrical needs of the town’s municipal buildings, excluding schools, at rates the company said would save the town $17 million to $20 million over 20 years.
Town Solicitor Michelle Buck said she decided to recommend hiring a special counsel after Councilor Kenneth Parrilla raised the idea. Buck said that Handy is one of the few lawyers in the state with the expertise required to review what she said was “a complex matter” and to determine any risks the town might face.
“We need our own opinion on this matter in order to protect the town’s rights going forward,” Buck said, adding that Wind Energy Development had been very cooperative while working on the agreement with Town Manager Steven Hartford and herself.
The project faces a deadline of sorts as Wind Energy hopes to buy the turbines in conjunction with the purchase of turbines for a project it is planning in Coventry. Buck said that if the town approves an agreement by July 2, the rates of the current proposed agreement would stay in effect. Approval at a later date could lead to a change in the proposed rates, she said.
Councilor Christopher Duhamel, a proponent of the project, said he agreed that an informational meeting in Bradford was a good idea. He added that the project was not being rushed and said that approval of the agreement would set a “review process in motion.” The review would require Wind Energy Development to gain approval by state and federal authorities as well as by the town’s land use boards.
The company has asked the town to approve a power purchase agreement as a condition before it proceeds with testing the wind and other environmental factors at the Bradford site. The company has said it must have an agreement in place before it can secure funding for the $10 million project.
Errolee Rathbun, a Bradford Road resident, urged the council to reject the proposal, saying the entire town and neighboring region was too densely developed for wind turbines. Allowing Wind Energy Development to begin testing would give the company “a foot in the door,” she said. Rathbun and other Bradford residents met with the council at the Bradford Preserve earlier Wednesday to inspect the general site where the towers would be erected. Rathbun then attended the council’s meeting at Town Hall.
Resident Ronald Walter questioned how Wind Energy Development could promise such great savings to the town. He was also critical of the proposed lease, saying it offered ample protections to the company but few for the town.
Jean Gagnier, chairman of the Alternative Energy Committee, also questioned the projected savings and the lease. Gagnier urged the council to be skeptical of the project, saying it appeared to carry “unknown risks” and offered “blank checks” to the company.
Duhamel said a review by Handy would allow the council to understand the project’s risks.
James Angelo, former chairman of the Alternative Energy Committee, asked the council to either dissolve the committee or recharge it with the task of reviewing Wind Energy Development’s proposal. Duhamel said the committee had already been dissolved. Gagnier, after the meeting, questioned Duhamel’s recollection of the committee’s status.
Charles Marsh, who served on the committee, asked how the company planned on getting the wind turbines to Bradford, saying highways and roads in the area could not bear the weight of the turbines.
Councilor Brian McCuin said getting the turbines to the town would be the company’s responsibility.
Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr., a proponent of the turbine project along with Duhamel and Councilor Campbell Field, said the proposal was intended to find a cost-effective way for the town to develop renewable “green” energy.
The council responded to residents’ concerns by scheduling an informational meeting, Cooke noted. He went on to say that he had grown tired of negativity directed toward innovative proposals and said the council deserved credit for bringing the proposal forward.
“I will take the blame. Leaders propose things and they don’t always work and leaders are big enough to understand when it doesn’t work we change our mind and we go in a different direction. I’m big enough to say that my mind is not made up,” Cooke said.
Councilor Richard Anthony said that until his many questions about the proposal were answered he could not support it.
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