PROVIDENCE – The wind turbine at Portsmouth High School that has sat idle since its gearbox broke in May 2012 could be spinning again within three to six months, ending what Governor Chafee said Monday has been one of a few “symbols of embarrassment” in the state that bother him.
Private contractor Paul Raducha, of Newport Renewables, who is advising the Town of Portsmouth, told the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation’s board of directors that could be the best-case scenario if all goes well with efforts to fix the once-profitable turbine.
After more discussion about the town’s efforts to arrange financing to fix the turbine, the Commerce Corporation board voted unanimously to modify the terms of a nearly $370,000 loan the agency granted to help Portsmouth build the wind turbine in 2009.
The modifications will allow the town to withhold its annual principal and interest payments due to the agency on that loan for the first nine years, so Portsmouth can set aside money into a repairs and maintenance escrow account. The loan, originally due to be paid off by July 2023, would be paid in full by Aug. 1, 2024, if not sooner, under the new terms.
The Commerce Corporation vote was one of multiple steps needed for Portsmouth to move forward with the town council’s June decision to fix the turbine, at an estimated cost of $885,000, rather than decommission the $3-million turbine, tear it down and somehow pay back a total of $2.1 million in loans still outstanding. A $250,000 grant from the attorney general’s office, paid out of Rhode Island’s share of the settlement from a federal Clean Air Act lawsuit, will help offset repair costs.
Portsmouth Town Planner Gary R. Crosby, Raducha and Seth H. Handy, a lawyer working for the town who specializes in renewable-energy issues, addressed the Commerce Corporation, which is chaired by Chafee, about the town’s plans. They told how the bankruptcy of the Canada-based company, AAER, a year after the turbine was installed voided the town’s warranty.
The board discussed whether modifying the loan might create a scenario where other towns with similar loans could seek the same assistance, but the agency’s renewable-energy program manager, Hannah Morini, said the Portsmouth loan was the only straight loan “with no forgiveness contingencies” granted by the agency for wind turbines.
Chafee, who said what bothered him is “seeing the gigantic white blades not turning” said the malfunctioning turbine is a state issue.
“We do want to help them,” he said, noting the grant from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office indicates he also considers this a state issue.
In other renewable-energy news, the Commerce Corporation approved $707,179.48 in grants for solar-energy projects to the following companies: Academy for Little Children school, West Warwick, $66,900; Whole Foods Market, Cranston, $237,501.48; Daniele Foods, Burrillville, $54,000; National Marker Company, North Smithfield, $232,014; Bouchard Broadcasting, Woonsocket, $15,000; Baby Greens Farm, North Kingstown, $12,600; and Cromwell Ventures, LLC, Providence, $89,164.
Morini said those grants leveraged an additional $1.3 million that will be spent on the projects, which will benefit 20 companies, including subcontractors.
The Renewable Energy Fund, available to all state ratepayers, is funded by a renewable-energy surcharge for electricity customers in Rhode Island. The fund had $10,451,126 as of Dec. 31, 2013, commerce spokeswoman Melissa Czerwein said.
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