2009-04-16 / Letters to the Editor

Wind energy and Jamestown

Thank you for your thorough April 9 article on the activities of the Jamestown Wind Energy Committee. I wanted to write to you to try to explain more fully some of the issues our community is facing.

By far the hardest issue to understand in wind power is the concept of "net metering." Net metering is one of a few different methods for pricing the electricity produced by a town owned wind turbine. When a town chooses to have a turbine treated as "net metered", the electricity the turbine produces is sold to National Grid, which then distributes "our" electrons to National Grid's customers. These electrons are intermixed with, and are then indistinguishable from, carbon-fuel generated electrons. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to target our green power solely for use in Jamestown.

In a net-metered system, National Grid would pay the town for our power at basically the same rate the Grid charges the town for the electricity we use at Town Hall, the schools, the sewage treatment plant, the water treatment plant, etc., until the town's electric bill becomes zero (0). While no cash changes hands, the town would no longer have to pay over $300,000 per year to the Grid.

Some of this money would be used to pay back the expenses incurred to construct the turbine, while the excess would be available to pay ordinary town expenses instead of using tax revenue. Once the town's electric bill is eliminated, under widely supported legislation that is now making its way through the General Assembly, the Grid would pay the town for any excess energy produced by our net-metered turbine at prevailing wholesale rates. The preceding legislation is essential to the economic feasibility of wind power in Jamestown and other windy communities, so we should all be grateful to our elected representatives, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and state Representative Deborah Ruggiero, for their very active leadership on this important legislative change.

The wind committee is currently considering recommending only net-metered turbines to the Town Council. After a thorough winnowing process, we have reduced the number of models we are analyzing in great detail to four alternative scenarios, a 2-megawatt net-metered turbine at Fort Getty, a 2-megawatt net-metered turbine at Taylor Point, a 0.8-megawatt net-metered turbine at Fort Getty and a 0.8-megawatt net-metered turbine at Taylor Point. The difference in generating capacity is that a 0.8 megawatt turbine would essentially replicate the town's electricity needs, producing no excess electricity for sale; while a 2.0-megawatt turbine would both bring the town's electric bill to $0 and allow us to sell a substantial amount of electricity at wholesale.

At the present time, the committee will not be recommending any purely commercial (i.e. wholesaleonly) turbines at Beavertail (our windiest location), because the wholesale price of electricity has, probably temporarily, dropped below levels at which these kinds of turbines could pay for themselves. In the longer term, there are potential contract, legislative and market-based solutions to this barrier, but for now, the committee believes only net metered turbines are worth considering in Jamestown.

Finally, I know the wind committee members would like me to affirm that it is the town council, not us, who will be making the final decision on wind turbines in Jamestown. Many Jamestowners continue to believe that Jamestown has the potential to replace large amounts of polluting, carbon-based, non-locally sourced fuels for electricity, with equivalent amounts of clean, renewable, locally generated energy that will provide many social and economic benefits to the town and state. The Wind Energy Committee is grateful for the support we have received so far and we look forward to shortly conducting a series of public workshops to present our preliminary analysis and give Jamestowners a chance to comment on and improve the final recommendation we make to the town council.

Don E. Wineberg

Editor's note: The writer is the chairman of the Jamestown Wind Energy Committee.

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