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City Council considering wind turbine power purchase agreement

NEW BEDFORD – The City of New Bedford may soon be venturing into the onshore wind business, with the City Council’s ordinance committee moving forward Tuesday on a proposal to buy energy from turbines in Plymouth.

The proposal, made by Mayor Jon Mitchell’s office, would enter the city into a power purchase agreement with Future Generation Wind LLC to buy wind-generated electricity at 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 20 years.

The ordinance committee voted 8-0 to submit the proposal to the full council, but not before Council President Joe Lopes raised concerns about neighbors to the Plymouth wind farm.

He said he is worried that construction of the farm’s four turbines, which have not yet been built, could encounter a “situation like in Fairhaven,” with neighbors opposing the turbines. Lopes also worried that entering into the agreement before construction could put the council at risk.

“We don’t know how the abutters will feel,” he said.

Director of Public Infrastructure Ronald Labelle quelled Lopes’ fears, saying that the project cannot be built without financing from either the city or another customer.

“We want to be one of the customers,” he said.

Labelle noted that the city has been very “aggressive” in pursuing alternative energy sources over the past several years. So far, that effort has largely been through installing almost 50,000 solar panels throughout the city. Investing in wind energy would give New Bedford the chance to “diversify.”

“I can’t emphasize enough to the Council the significance and importance of this and how excited I am right now,” he said.

Scott Durkee, director of the city’s energy office, noted that the power purchase agreement will also save the city money. Currently, he said, the city’s lowest costing energy contracts are 11 to 13 cents per kilowatt hour, with the city paying closer to 15 to 17 cents per kilowatt hour on most contracts. Signing with Future Generation LLC is predicted to save New Bedford upwards of $20 million over the life of the contract.

Additionally, Future Generation LLC is offering to pay the city $250,000 in a sort of signing bonus meant to help further New Bedford’s efforts to become a premier port for offshore wind.

Future Generation owner Keith Mann said he is also considering using New Bedford as the receiving port for his turbines.

The four turbines, manufactured by Gamesa at two megawatts a piece, will be installed on Mann’s 380-acre farm located on Head of the Bay Road in South Plymouth.

On Tuesday evening, Mann said he “takes noise concerns about turbines seriously” but was confident the setbacks at his farm would be sufficient. He said he and Future Generation Wind have also done “extensive noise sampling and testing” to ensure the turbines will comply with state and town regulations.