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Legislation would help wind energy move ahead

PROVIDENCE – Thanks to new legislation that appears to be heading toward passage, at least a dozen wind-turbine projects, including rebuilding the Portsmouth High School turbine, can move ahead.

Passed by the House on June 18, H5131 defines when a utility company such as National Grid or a renewable-energy developer will have to pay for upgrades to wires, poles and other repairs to accommodate new renewable-energy projects. It also would prevent the utility from delaying that work and holding up applications and other paperwork.

“I’m back,” Mark DePasquale, owner of Wind Energy Development (WED) of North Kingstown, said after the 69-2 vote.

The bill must also go through the Senate, but DePasquale is confident that passage is assured and that he can continue to build 10 400-foot turbines in Coventry and advance plans for others around the state.

For three years, DePasquale and National Grid debated paying for aging infrastructure, specifically new utility poles near WEB’s Coventry projects. National Grid said the work would increase electricity rates, while WED said the $1.2 million cost would cause its projects to lose money.

After negotiations, WED and National Grid agreed to split the work in Coventry and set the terms for how other interconnection work and upgrades would be funded. Under the legislation, the renewable-energy developer pays for upgrades. The utility may still be required to pay a portion of those upgrades if in fact those improvements or repairs were expected to occur at a later date.

Future renewable-energy projects or customers that come on-line within 10 years of the upgrades may also be required to chip in for the improvements if the rely on those enhancements for their operations/service. The agreement keeps National Grid from raising electricity rates as funds for any work would come out of an existing maintenance fund.

The legislation also requires the utility to honor existing interconnection agreements, specifically the one that allowed the Portsmouth High School wind turbine to be built. The town-funded turbine has been out of commission since June 2012 because of a faulty gearbox and a lack of money for repairs. After several options fell through, the state attorney general’s office chipped in $250,000 toward a solution.

Last November, WED agreed to buy the broken turbine in return for the town buying the electricity at a fixed price for 25 years. WED planned to dismantle the 336-foot-tall turbine and erect a new and improved model. But National Grid said WED must also pay for additional interconnection costs. WED objected and the legislation now requires National Grid to pay for upgrades that weren’t part of the agreement when the turbine was built in 2009.

WED has so far built one commercial-scale turbine in North Kingstown and received approval to build 10 400-foot-high wind turbines in Coventry. Construction is ongoing for two turbines at the site of the former Picillo Farm, a 99-acre Superfund site owned by the town of Coventry. Site work is underway for another six turbines on private property adjacent to the former pig farm. Construction also is moving ahead for two more turbines along Route 117 in Coventry, according to DePasquale.

He said the German wind-turbine company Vensys is looking to open an import facility at the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown to meet the demand for WED projects and provide turbines for the Northeast.

The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to take up the legislation this week.