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New Bedford City Council narrowly approves power plan

NEW BEDFORD – The city will invest in onshore wind energy, after the City Council narrowly agreed to buy power from a group that is selling electricity from a proposed wind turbine farm in Plymouth.

The council voted 6-5 to enter into a power purchase agreement with Future Generation Wind LLC to buy wind-generated electricity at a price of 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 20 years after a proposal from Mayor Jon Mitchell’s office.

But some city councilors said they were concerned about entering into the long-term contract.

At-large Councilor Linda Morad said the city’s past long-term contracts have been nothing but trouble. She cited the 30-year lease the city granted to the Whaling City Golf Course operators, which she called “horrendous.”

Morad said the city would take a “bet” that electricity would remain at 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour, which she said is cheaper than the current average of 14 cents the city pays now. That may not always be the cheapest price, she said.

She also said the $250,000 the city would receive up front from the agreement should be going to lower the tax burden on residents – not to go, as proposed, to the New Bedford Wind Energy Center which she called a “pie in the sky” agency.

Mitchell, reached after the meeting, said that’s just $250,000 out of a projected $33 million the city would save over the next 20 years of the agreement. He also said there are mechanisms in the contract that would allow the city to opt out of the agreement if market prices shifted to an amount lower than 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

The mayor also took issue with Morad’s assertion that the city would be locked into the contract. He called it a “ridiculously uninformed statement” and said she was being a “reflexive contrarian” despite being briefed on the contract’s nuances by Commissioner of the Department of Public Infrastructure Ronald Labelle.

“The reality is these energy initiatives are not about creating good feelings about green energy, they’re about saving taxpayer dollars,” said Mitchell. “And we’re doing it better than any other municipality in the state.”

Councilor-at-large David Alves said wind energy is too much a focus of Mitchell’s economic development plan. Alves said Mitchell was putting all the city’s eggs in one basket when another energy source could turn out to be much less expensive.

“The mayor wants to be the Don Quixote of wind energy, he’s seeing windmills in the sky, offshore and in Plymouth,” said Alves.

“My economic development approach is to grow jobs for New Bedford and that’s what this proposal would do …” Mitchell said of his administration’s wind energy efforts.

Matthew Morrissey, managing director of the Wind Energy Center, said he appreciates the support of the council and said the agency is focused on creating employment opportunities for the city.

“I think most people, particularly leaders in the private sector … realize that the scale of the opportunity (of wind energy) is such that we cannot afford to let it pass us by,” Morrissey said.

Voting in favor of the purchase were Council President Joseph Lopes, At-large Councilors Debora Coelho and Brian Gomes, Ward 1 Councilor James Oliveira, Ward 2 Councilor Steven Martins and Ward 5 Councilor Kerry Winterson.

Opposed were At-large Councilor Naomi Carney, Ward 3 Councilor Henry Bousquet, Ward 4 Councilor Dana Rebeiro, Alves and Morad.