PORTSMOUTH – Facing a Nov. 1 deadline set by the company seeking to replace the wind turbine at the high school, the Portsmouth Town Council on Oct. 20 instructed Town Administrator John C. Klimm to open talks with the school committee to bring them on board.
Mr. Klimm said on Monday night that he was planning to meet with members of the school committee on Tuesday afternoon.
A main issue in the Wind Energy Proposal is a commitment by the town to use 3.8 million kW/hr of energy per year – a figure that’s too high for the town to achieve by itself, Mr. Klimm noted on Monday night.
“Without including the school [energy] load, it puts the project in jeopardy,” he said.
During the meeting, Mr. Klimm informed the council that he had not asked representatives of the prospective contractor, Wind Energy Development, to attend the meeting out of respect for a request by Councilman Keith E. Hamilton that councilors not vote on the matter unless they had 72 hours to review new information.
Specifically, Mr. Klimm presented a chart at the council meeting showing how the 15.5-cent per kilowatt hour charge proposed by Wind Energy Development compared with potential increases in electricity fees by other utility companies.
“Asking for a vote tonight would be pushing the envelope,” Mr. Klimm stated. “We are committed to not asking you for a vote until you’ve had the numbers for 72 hours.”
On the Nov. 1 deadline set by Wind Energy Development, Mr. Klimm explained: “There are very significant business reasons [why] they haven’t moved from that.”
Mr. Klimm also noted that the town had negotiated the 15.5-cent-per-kW/hr rate, down from around 20 cents, as part of its discussions with the company.
Finance Personnel Director James Lathrop also walked the council through a chart that compared the future costs to the town for paying off the $2.1 million in bonds that were taken out for the construction of the now-defunct turbine at the high school, and for absorbing future increases in electricity charges.
The premise of the graph, Mr. Lathrop said, was, “At what point does this not make sense?” before adding: “If electricity drops below 11.5 cents [per kW/hr], you’d be losing.”
After reviewing the information and learning of Mr. Klimm’s plans to meet with school officials, Council President James A. Seveney also invited Larry Fitzmorris, president of Portsmouth Concerned Citizens, to attend.
“If there’s something we missed, it would be better to know sooner, rather than later,” said Mr. Seveney.
During an interview after the session, Mr. Fitzmorris explained his intent is to avoid a repeat of the problems with the first wind turbine, which included the original company going bankrupt and revelations that the machine may not have been assembled properly.
“We’re wiser now than when we bought the first machine, but we are facing what appears to be a complex bid, or situation – there’s a lot of moving parts in this bid – the town has some obligations, WED has some obligations, but we’re also still involved in a very risky technology,” Mr. Fitzmorris said. “We don’t want to get stuck again with a dead turbine and nobody to run it, because that’s where we were before. We have to make sure, in my judgment, that we’re not in that position again, and we need some assurances that we won’t be – we’re only smarter if we use our experience to make this judgment. If we ignore our experience and all the things we should have learned the first time and make a fast decision, we’re going to get burned again.”
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