PORTSMOUTH – The Town Council voted 4-2 at its June 3 meeting to spend $885,000 to repair the broken wind turbine at Portsmouth High School. The turbine, which sits atop a 213-foot-high tower, has been shut down since June 2012 because of a busted gearbox.
The town still owes $2.1 million from the $3 million in bonding voters approved to erect the turbine seven years ago. When operational, the 1.5-megawatt wind turbine produces nearly 2.7 million kilowatt-hours of power annually, enough electricity to power 280 homes, according to a report presented recently to the Town Council.
Two council members and several residents wanted the town to take down the turbine and simply find another way to pay back the $2.1 million. Resident Tom Casselman called the turbine a monument of incompetence and an embarrassment that has made Portsmouth a laughing stock.
“It’s a piece of junk. It’s a failure. We need to move on,” he said.
“I really do believe we bought a lemon,” said Town Council member Liz Pedro, who voted against the plan to restart the turbine.
Town Council President James Seveney supported moving forward, but cautioned that there might be “an off-ramp” to take if plans worsen to re-commission the turbine.
The town softens the financial blow thanks to a $250,000 state grant. The payment partially offsets the total cost of repairing the gearbox, which would bring the town’s cost down to $635,000. The state funding is from settlement money from a Clean Air Act lawsuit, according to Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
The turbine was operational and ran successfully from March 2009 until early 2012. In 2012, the turbine’s gearbox suffered premature failure and must be replaced to return the wind turbine to service.
“The town of Portsmouth was one of the first municipalities in Rhode Island to advance the state’s objective of promoting renewable energy and reducing emissions of air pollutants,” Kilmartin said. “It is, therefore, in the state’s interest to support these efforts.”
The state funding is contingent on the town obtaining the remaining money for the repair work. The funding stems from a 2007 court order resulting from a lawsuit brought by Rhode Island, other states and the federal government against the American Electric Power Service Corp. (AEP). Rhode Island and the other plaintiffs alleged that AEP constructed and modified numerous power plants in the Ohio River valley without the permits required under the federal Clean Air Act, causing increased smog in Rhode Island and other states.
Under the court order, AEP paid a $15 million penalty and committed $60 million to perform or finance pro-environmental projects, of which $24 million was distributed to eight states to fund pollution reduction, renewable energy and green building.
Rhode Island’s portion of the initial settlement was $1.2 million, distributed through five annual installments of $240,000. In 2012, a revision was made to the AEP consent decree to give Rhode Island an additional $714,000 to fund public air pollution mitigation projects. Under the revised consent decree, AEP agreed to reduce its total sulfur dioxide emissions (of their pre-2007 baseline) by about 90 percent by 2029.
In previous years, the attorney general’s office has leveraged this court-ordered money to reduce state energy costs and harmful air pollution through the installation of wind turbines at Fishermen’s Memorial State Campground and East Matunuck State Beach, and providing for upgraded air emissions devices on state-owned heavy equipment.
Additionally, in 2012, a $1.2 million solar roof project on a RIPTA building in Providence was funded through this money.
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