2010-01-28 / Front Page

Council mulls twin turbines

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Jamestown Town Council is poised to consider the financial benefits of building not one, but two wind turbines on the island.

The unexpected twist in the town’s two-year assessment of potential wind energy benefits arose during a Jan. 25 workshop held by the council, which had asked the Wind Energy Committee for a briefing on its November recommendation to site a single, 2.0-megawatt turbine at Ft. Getty.

Ultimately, Jamestown residents will have the final say on any wind energy proposal that emerges from the council – which might sign off on a plan at its Feb. 1 meeting – because they would vote on the bond that the town would have to issue to finance the bulk of construction costs.

Don Wineberg, who chaired the Wind Energy Committee, alerted the council to the merits of a second turbine in light of “new” information; namely, a re-interpretation of state incentives for municipal wind turbines that indicates that the town would earn much more money from the sale of excess electricity than previously forecast.

Under state law, municipalities producing electricity from renewable energy sources may – after satisfying the energy demands from town-owned buildings – sell up to 3.5 megawatts of excess electricity to the local utility.

Wineberg said that the net metering law allowed a sales price that was slightly higher than the wholesale price for electricity. However, the law was amended in May, 2009, and a closer look at those revisions indicates that excess electricity could be sold at nearly retail rates, Wineberg said.

At present-day prices, “we could sell excess electricity at 11.4 cents [per kilowatt hour],” instead of the 8.7 cents assumed in a feasibility study performed for the town, he said. “My interpretation is that the net metering law provides an incentive to get as close to 3.5 megawatts as possible. It’s an exciting opportunity.”

Jamestown draws 1.8 megawatts of electricity to power its town-owned buildings. So, a pair of 1.65-megawatt turbines would produce 1.5 megawatts of excess electricity that the town could annually sell to pay off the bond – and eventually turn a profit.

To generate as much electricity as possible without exceeding the 3.5-megawatt cap, the town would have to build two 1.65-megawatt turbines. The only available 3.5- megawatt wind turbine, said committee member Michael Larkin, is intended for offshore use and is much taller than a 1.65-megawatt turbine – which, depending on the manufacturer, is 230 feet high from ground to “propeller” hub.

Because multiple turbines should be not be sited too closely to each other to prevent wind turbulence from affecting the spin of their blades, Jamestown doesn’t have a site that could easily accommodate twin turbines. Consequently, if the town decides to build a pair of turbines, one would be sited at Ft. Getty and the other at Taylor Point – which was the runner-up to Ft. Getty in the committee’s site selection vote.

The committee members who were present for the vote unanimously selected Ft. Getty over Taylor Point because, among other reasons, Ft. Getty is a windier location and “revenue increases logarithmically” as wind speed increases, Wineberg said.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer was an ex officio member of the committee. In an interview, she said that had she been able to attend the site-selection vote, she would have voted for Taylor Point “primarily because of the uncertainty at Ft. Getty, which is at a policy crossroads.

“The town has to decide what will happen there over the next 20 years,” she said, “and, if the town decides to keep the campground, there’s a lot of infrastructure – water, electricity and even sewer – that will have to be repaired or replaced.”

Bryer said that siting a wind turbine at Ft. Getty is a bit premature.

“Once the decision is made, it will drive our policy decisions, and that’s a big risk because a wind turbine is completely incompatible with a residential use – even if it’s a temporary residential use, like camping,” she said. “You’ll hear the turbine regardless of where it’s sited in the park. It’s literally the nature of the beast. Will people still camp at Ft. Getty if there’s a noisy wind turbine there? Maybe. But it’s still a risk.”

Because the workshop discussions were complicated by the unexpected suggestion of a second turbine, there wasn’t any focused review of the Ft. Getty recommendation. However, council member Bill Murphy said he wanted to see a list of all the additional facilities, such as a banquet hall, that have been formally and informally proposed for Ft. Getty – and where those facilities would go.

Murphy also raised a concern about the “shadow flicker” to which the campers would be exposed; however, committee member William Smith said that because the sun is higher in the sky during the summer, there wouldn’t be much, if any, flicker affecting the campers.

Besides an outline of the proposals for additional Ft. Getty facilities, the council members asked the committee to provide revised financial modeling that reflects, among other things, the 36% increase in projected revenue from excess electricity sales. The council will use that information to make an informed decision on the number of turbines that the town should build, if any, and where they – or it – should go.

Time is of the essence because there is a March 1 deadline for the town to submit an application seeking federal stimulus money in support of a turbine project. The town would also pursue a $500,000 renewable energy grant from the state. However, as the council pores over the fiscal projections during its meeting on Monday, the town should not lose sight of the “big picture,” said committee member Smith.

“Look beyond the numbers,” he said. “Wind turbines would make the island ‘greener,’ and help address global warming, but these are large machines – on the scale of a water tower or a bridge – and you will have to decide if this is something you want in Jamestown.”

The next Town Council meeting will be held this Monday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m.

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