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Workers get early jump on dismantling Portsmouth turbine

PORTSMOUTH – The company contracted to dismantle the town’s broken wind turbine and build another one in its place got a head start on the job today.

Wind Energy Development (WED) of North Kingstown were at Portsmouth High School Monday, staging heavy equipment at the site several days ahead of schedule.

On Jan. 11 WED owner Mark DePasquale told the Town Council that he expected the disassembly work to begin Friday, Jan. 29. After the turbine came down, he said, it would take only two days to install the new machine.

Jan. 29 was a good start date, Mr. DePasquale told the council, because students have the day off; Friday is a professional development day at PHS.

On Monday, however, Mr. DePasquale said WED decided to take advantage of the relatively mild weather by starting work early. He said the real job of disassembling the turbine will start Tuesday morning and should take a total of about 12 hours to complete.

PHS Principal Robert Littlefield notified parents and students of the earlier start date in an e-mail sent out Jan. 22.

“Sadly, the process for dismantling the Portsmouth wind turbine will begin on Monday, January 25th. Outside of a little noise and dust it should not prove to be too much of a disruption to our school day,” Mr. Littlefield stated.

However, the work does impact one group of students, the principal said.

“We have 30 parking spots located on the outdoor basketball courts adjacent to the turbine,” Mr. Littlefield said, noting that the area would be off-limits to student parking all of this week. We have arranged for alternate parking on a temporary basis. Those displaced students should park on the one-way driveway on Memorial Drive.”

Voters approved building the turbine with a $3 million bond issue in 2007. The windmill was built in 2009 but has been idle since 2012 due to a faulty gearbox supplied by a company that has since gone bankrupt.

In November 2014 the council voted to enter into a contract with WED that would allow the town to pay off the remaining debt that’s left on the turbine. Under the agreement, WED was to pay a lump sum of $1.45 million to the town. In exchange, the town would buy energy generated from the new 1.5-megawatt turbine over a 25-year period at a rate of 15.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

On Jan. 11, the council approved WED’s request to build a turbine that’s 65 feet taller than the existing one. The new turbine will top out at 85 meters, or about 279 feet.

Mr. DePasquale said the 85-meter turbine is the industry standard, which will allow WED to get it up and running sooner because a smaller machine requires bank approval.

With additional reporting by Richard W. Dionne Jr.