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Tiverton council supports billion dollar development concept; Felise proposes energy park, hotel, shopping, turbines and more

TIVERTON – The Town Council Monday night gave “preliminary conceptual support” to a renewable energy facility proposed by Gerald Felise for a large piece of land he says he owns along Route 24 north of Tiverton.

The sprawling project would be developed by Mr. Felise’s corporation, “Natural Energy Generation, Inc.” (NEG). He said it would include renewable energy systems like sun, wind, fuel cells, and biodiesel produced from algae and pyrolysis (decomposition).

He also said the site would ultimately include a hotel, an office building for 1,000 people, residences, commercial, and retail units, but his presentation Monday focused on renewable energy.

During the one-hour-and-a-half council debate about the proposal, Mr. Felise said that in the five to seven year build-out of his project “we plan to spend close to $1 billion.”

The vote was 4-2 on a motion made by Councilor David Nelson, who with councilors Rob Coulter, Joan Chabot, and Council President Jay Lambert voted to support the proposal concept. Councilor Ed Roderick and Brett Pelletier voted against. Councilor Cecil Leonard was absent.

The project

In the July 23 briefing document given to the council, Mr. Felise said:

• Energy generation would be accomplished with: fuel cells (12 units), photovolatic solar fixed arrays (197 panels), commercial turbines (5 units), battery systems (6 units), geothermal storage (420,000 cu.ft.).

• Also specified is energy production from biodielsel produced by algae and by pyrolysis.

• For the period 2012-2014 Mr. Felise projected construction costs of $348 million, expenditures locally of $127 million, and 2,415.3 construction jobs locally, with 203 jobs afterwards during operation.

• “Should our pending acquisitions and joint ventures be successful,” Mr. Felise said, total construction costs during 2012-2014 will rise to $468 million.

• The energy generated by his facility will generate “enough electricity for 34,000 homes.”

The land

Introducing his motion favoring the letter, Mr. Nelson said Mr. Felise owns 450 acres in the north part of town.

Mr. Felise at different times in the discussion said “my three properties own 500 acres,” said the first stage is “70 acres,” council member Pelletier referred to “500 or 600 acres,” and in his briefing document given to the council Mr. Felise said “we presently own and control 650 acres of land” and are seeking “to expand that number to 881 acres.”

In a letter to the council also handed out Monday, Mr. Felise said he owns “approximately 500” acres and an option to buy “an additional 150.”

The letter of support

The action taken by the council was in respect to what Mr. Felise called a “letter of support.” Numerous times during the debate about the letter-approval he was seeking, Mr. Felise was admonished directly by Mr. Lambert to take note, that “you understand, that even if we express that support [for the letter], you have no assurance that the town would approve the project.”

Mr. Felise said he understood. He also said there is no risk to the town.

The letter that was approved said the town reserves “the right to object to any and all of the specifics of this proposal or any other NEG proposal in any and all forms.”

In a chronology he handed out to councilors Monday of what he called past “unresponsive actions” by the Town of Tiverton, Mr. Felise said he had been advised by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) in the fall of 2009 to get a “letter of support” from the town in order to bolster a filing he planned to make with the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB).

Other comments and debate

It is not clear where precisely Mr. Felise is in the application and approval process. He said at one point, “we have completed filings for National Grid and the Energy Facilities Siting Board.”

At the end of page 2 of his briefing document, Mr. Felise said, “We expect to file an application to the Energy Facility Siting Board by August 4, 2012, commencing preliminary construction by October 2012, commissioning the facility by March 2014.”

He said that after the industrial development, he intended to move ahead with residential and commercial components of his development. He also referred to “an office complex for 1,000 people” he’s proposing for the site.

Mike Burk addressed the council after Mr. Felise concluded his presentation, but while he remained at the table in front of the council.

Mr. Burk said he hadn’t heard that the council had done “any independent verification” of Mr. Felise’s claims regarding costs, employment, and other figures cited.

Mr. Felise said he’d been given the “run-around” by the town planning board, to which Planning Board Chairman Stephen Hughes said “there’s never been an agenda request” by Mr. Felise to appear before the planning board.

Mr. Hughes cautioned the council about the Felise proposal. Responding, Mr. Nelson asked Mr. Hughes, “why are you interested in throwing up roadblocks?”

Mr. Hughes said, ”I’m trying to protect the town.”

The issue of “eminent domain” came up, a term used by opponents of the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC) to criticize the EBEC legislation, which they said provided for eminent domain.

“I could care less about EBEC,” Mr. Felise said. “I only started to care when they started to take on the power of eminent domain.”

In the letter he handed the council on Monday, he said the proposed EBEC legislation in February had halted his earlier attempt then to get his project off the ground.

The presence of a “quasi-government entity (EBEC) having the power of imminent [sic] domain either as an individual private entity or under the RIEDC umbrella raised the risk level on the private capital financing for our project far beyond that which our financing group was willing to pursue.”