The Tiverton Town Council on Monday night heard a rebuttal from East Bay Energy Consortium’s Tiverton representative Gary Plunkett, and in separate action voted to draft a new letter of support for Natural Energy Generation Inc.’s proposed renewable energy facility near Fish Road.
Plunkett responded to Councilor David Nelson’s statements made at the council’s July 9 meeting. At that meeting, Nelson had presented a series of events beginning on Feb. 13 which detailed the consortium’s demise in the state’s final legislative session of fiscal 2012 in June.
Nelson had previously stated that a bill to establish the consortium was moving forward in the General Assembly despite losing the support of the Tiverton council and other member communities.
“The bill’s demise had many factors, including the untimely 38 Studios disaster,” Plunkett told the council, while calling out councilors Joan Chabot and Nelson, saying they helped kill local support of the bill.
“I think it’s fair to say that the people of Tiverton as a whole are reasonably comfortable with the idea of seeing wind turbines on their horizon,” Plunkett said, noting 83 percent of Tiverton taxpayers previously surveyed supported it.
“In spite of this, EBEC failed to get state-enabling legislation approved that would allow the creation of a public entity to finance, develop and manage such a facility.”
Plunkett allayed concerns that individual property rights were endangered, as the proposed site was already public property, and said after public objection, the eminent domain provision was removed from the bill.
“Tiverton was explicitly protected from legal or financial liability,” he said. “The impact is primarily on Tiverton. We’re giving up the land. We will have the turbines. The legislation was changing too rapidly.”
Council President Jay Lambert explained to Plunkett his decision to withdraw support for the consortium.
“I want to make it clear. I am not opposed to this concept,” Lambert said. “I hope EBEC is coming back.”
Plunkett said the industrial park site on Fish Road is most favorable for wind energy development, which “doesn’t require expensive infrastructure. Nor is difficult topography an obstacle.”
Nelson alleged that during the legislative session Plunkett expressed disinterest in the council’s input. “We were watching the sausage as it was being made,” he said. “You chose not to engage us in that.”
Councilor Robert Coulter said he was concerned that “Tiverton did not have veto power” against the other eight communities in the consortium. “If you give Tiverton consent, problem solved.”
Councilor Brett Pelletier offered a slightly dissenting view of the matter: “We consistently lose sight that this is not a Tiverton deal. It’s a regional collaborative.
“I don’t think other towns have total disregard for Tiverton. I give them a little more credit than that,” Pelletier said.
Following the hearing on the consortium, Natural Energy Generation Inc. CEO Gerald Felise appeared before the council to regain support for his plans to develop a separate renewable energy facility on Fish Road, near the would-be industrial park.
Felise told the council NEG’s plans for development had been stalled because its financial backers feared eminent domain would allow the then-pending EBEC to take over its project.
Felise had introduced a proposal at the council’s Feb. 13 meeting about NEG’s plan to develop renewable energy on its own property.
That plan called for more wind energy development, while the current plan calls for mixed renewable energy development, including solar energy and storage.
NEG already owns 500 acres of land and holds an option for another 150 acres, Felise said, but it would initially develop only 70 acres.
Lambert said the council expresses “preliminary conceptual support” for the project but gave no assurance that would be obliged to approve it later.
Felise accused the council of giving him the runaround on his development plans over the last few years. “I have a chronology here of a year and a half of being passed around with this rhetoric,” he said.
Chabot said she would support the proposal. “It’s a private investment on private property,” she said.
The scope of the project concerned Pelletier. “Six hundred and fifty acres is a massive amount of land,” he said. “That’s unprecedented for this town. It has the capacity to change the character of the area.”
Town planning board member David Holmes told the council that he had reservations about NEG’s proposal, because it calls for “amendments to the town comprehensive plan,” and because, he said, the corporation had never presented its proposal to the planning board.
“It’s a slippery slope to get involved in this,” Holmes said. “We didn’t get a chance to ask any questions at the planning board.”
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