BRISTOL – The East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC) has an image problem. Critics portray the renewable energy and energy-efficiency collaborative as a wasteful expansion of state government, a burden to ratepayers and an affront to private industry.
Many of the EBEC’s most vocal opponents reside here and expressed their disapproval for the EBEC’s proposed Tiverton wind farm at an Oct. 3 workshop hosted by the Town Council.
“It’s no secret, I’m opposed to the project. I consider it an economic boondoggle,” said Peter Hewitt, a regular opponent to the EBEC.
Town Council member Halsey Herreshoff said he preferred to let private industry develop renewable energy projects, such as the eight to 10 wind turbine wind farm the EBEC has proposed for the Tiverton Industrial Park. “I really don’t believe it’s appropriate for the citizens of this town to get into this business,” Herreshoff said.
EBEC’s representatives insisted that the project has always been about municipalities working together to save money.
“This is an opportunity to give nine communities revenue to help reduce their tax burden,” said Thomas Moses, EBEC’s attorney. “That’s what it is. That’s what the whole project is based on.”
Herreshoff said it was “reprehensible” that the EBEC has insisted it will not release the wind data collected during the past 13 months from a measuring tower at the 177-acre industrial park, which Tiverton owns.
Moses said the data was proprietary and being kept from competing developers who might use the information to advance their own project. But Moses added, the data is promising. “We can say based on the date today, we know we have a feasible project,” he said.
Moses also noted that the nine member communities would not have financial liability if the $50 million to $60 million wind farm failed.
The EBEC was established in 2009 with appointed representatives from East Providence, Barrington, Bristol, Warren, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Middletown, Little Compton and Newport. In 2010, the EBEC received $335,000 from the state Renewable Energy Fund (REF) for pre-construction of the mostly undeveloped business park. An initial grant of $100,000 in 2009 came from the REF, along with $40,000 from The Rhode Island Foundation.
The EBEC attempted to establish itself as a public-private agency, similar to the Narragansett Bay Commission and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), in order to act as an independent financing agency that assumes the financial risk for the project.
“It has to stand on its own, not to move forward on the credit of any obligation from cities, towns, the state, the EDC or anybody else,” said Eric Busch, project manager for the EBEC. “It has to be a project that’s viable, that can fund itself, pay for itself through self-funding.”
Opponents seized on the EBEC’s proposed power of eminent domain to convince sympathetic council members and politicians across the East Bay to oppose the formation of the EBEC as an agency. Even Gov. Lincoln Chafee submitted a letter of opposition.
Revised legislation to include the EBEC as a division of the state Economic Development Corporation (EDC) was quickly dropped as the 38 Studios scandal developed last spring.
The latest version of the legislation creates the EBEC as a nonprofit entity. This proposal failed to advance when it was introduced during the final days of the 2012 General Assembly session in June. But the bill will be reintroduced when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
The legislative setbacks prevents EBEC from moving ahead with with agreements with National Grid, and exploring the terms of leasing the industrial park with Tiverton.
The recent Bristol meeting was intended to rebuild public support for the wind farm and justify establishing the EBEC as an entity.
Busch said the consortium plans to hold additional workshops and presentations with elected officials in the East Bay region after the Nov. 6 election but before the General Assembly meets in January. Tiverton, in particular, will be urged to develop a plan for the industrial park and wind energy. Tiverton currently has a moratorium on wind turbines.
Both Bristol and Tiverton are expected to discuss the wind project and the EBEC at their Oct. 9 town council meetings.
Energy-efficiency projects also are being considered for the EBEC’s other cities and towns. One option: A program to buy streetlights and maintenance contracts from National Grid in order to reduce costs and install low-energy light bulbs.
Raising money also will be a priority. The EBEC has spent about $23,000 to reply to requests for information. “It’s a significant issue,” Busch said. At its Oct. 1 meeting, the EBEC representative approved charging $15 an hour to gather data for new information requests.
About $50,000 remains in the EBEC’s general budget, and about half is reserved for the wind-measurement tower in Tiverton. Paying a lobbyist to promote EBEC’s legislation at the Statehouse is expected to expend much of the remaining money.
EBEC will seek new funding sources. The state Office of Energy Resources is expected to be a possible funder.
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