2010-02-18 / Front Page

Council backs one turbine

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Town Council this week decided that Jamestown should become a renewable energy producer by constructing a single wind turbine at Taylor Point – but not at Ft. Getty.

The Feb. 16 vote directs the town to start the grant application process for $750,000 in federal – and $500,000 in state – contributions towards the roughly $5 million it will cost to build a single turbine.

However, the fate of a town bond to finance the remaining $3.75 million will rest in the hands of Jamestown voters during the Financial Town Meeting in June, or the elections in November.

The Wind Energy Committee last week advised the town to build a turbine at Ft. Getty, as well as Taylor Point, because a pair of 1.65-megawatt turbines would yield the maximum revenue possible under the state law governing electricity sales from municipally-owned turbines.

The vote for a single turbine generating 1.5 to 1.75 megawatts was numerically unanimous, but council member Ellen Win- sor cast her “yes” vote with reluctance – arguing that the town should seek $750,000 in separate federal grants for each of two turbines.

Council member Michael White supported Winsor’s proposal, adding that even if both grants were awarded, the town would still have to issue a bond, and “we wouldn’t be obligated to build both turbines.”

But a majority of the council members tilted against a Ft. Getty windmill for various reasons – especially the uncertainties surrounding the future uses of Ft. Getty.

“We are going to reconstitute the Ft. Getty Master Plan Committee and we should forego a turbine there until we hear from [that committee],” said council member Bob Bowen.

Bowen also dismissed as “improbable” any hopes of winning a large federal grant for each of two turbines because R.I. towns have already submitted 86 applications for the $8.3 million in stimulus money available to the state.

Council member Bill Murphy said he was nervous about taking on debt for a pair of turbines and questioned whether the voters would approve that much in financing.

Murphy also said that “the ‘sky view’ at Taylor Point is already affected by the bridge [while] there isn’t anything affecting the ‘sky view’ at Ft. Getty.”

Bowen, however, said he would not oppose building a Ft. Getty turbine once there was more certainty about the future of the entire park.

“It’s not that Ft. Getty isn’t suitable,” he said. “It’s just that we need to wait a little longer.”

Members of the Wind Energy Committee have previously asserted that the town would never muster the will to build a second turbine once the first one was up and running. Committee chairman Don Wineberg and committee member William “Bucky” Brennan both offered final arguments in support of two turbines.

Brennan told the council that most of the R.I. applications for stimulus money had been filed only for “feasibility studies.”

He also noted that building two turbines simultaneously would trim $500,000 from the costs of constructing the turbines separately.

Wineberg told the council that, “By saying ‘no’ [to two turbines] tonight, you will deprive the voters of the right to say how many turbines we should have, and where they should go.

“All the models show that the turbines will be profitable,” he continued. “I hear a lot of talk about the interests of the people of Jamestown.”

By voting against a second turbine, he said, the council will be voting for potentially millions of dollars in tax increases that the town could offset with 20-plus years of profits from a second turbine.

But the pleas failed to sway the council, which voted 3-2 against a Winsor motion to apply for a pair of federal stimulus money grants.

Earlier, the council resolved that it was imperative to vote in favor of at least one turbine as a way of reinforcing its opposition to a liquefied natural gas facility proposed for Mt. Hope Bay.

“If we are opposed to LNG,” said council president Mike Schnack, “we have to demonstrate that we’re willing to fight for something to take its place.”

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said that he has requested a meeting with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed for the purpose of discussing with him, the council members and the local Assembly representatives a Capitol Hill strategy against the facility.

Keiser added that the town was expecting to learn more about a potential strategy from State Rep. Deborah Ruggiero and State Sen. Teresa Paiva-Weed, who recently met with members of the congressional delegation. He also noted that he would be attending a March 2 hearing on state legislation to limit the height of ships passing under the Pell and Mt. Hope bridges.

Murphy warned that any bill precluding the passage of LNG tankers below those bridges could be disastrous for Jamestown if the facility developers turn around and put the berthing and offloading facility on Jamestown’s side of the bay.

“Don’t fight a battle that you don’t want to win,” he said.

Winsor noted, however, that the cryogenic pipeline technology for LNG was “unproven,” implying that it might not be practical or economically feasible to pump liquefied gas through a 40-mile pipeline from the southern end of Narragansett Bay to the purposebuilt terminal in Fall River.

The council is still hoping to sign a joint resolution against the LNG facility in concert with other coastal communities, with the venue for those discussions slated to be a March 26 “summit” meeting hosted by the Alliance for a Livable Newport at the Community College of Rhode Island campus in Newport.

In other business, the council:

• Scheduled for its March 1 meeting a decision on the charge for a reconstituted Ft. Getty Master Plan Committee. There was some debate about the composition of the next working group, and there was support for folding the panel into the Buildings and Facilities Committee. Meanwhile, Keiser told the council, the town is designing a replacement for the shower-and-restroom facility at the campground while also working out the costs to simply repair the existing facility.

• Approved the selection of Cheryl Fernstrom to replace the retiring Arlene Petit as town clerk. Fernstrom, Keiser told the Jamestown Press, is currently the Exeter town clerk, and was one of 39 applicants.

“We short-listed that group of 39,” Keiser said, “to the nine people who lived in Jamestown and who had appropriate qualifications and/or experience working in a town clerk’s office.”

During the Jamestown Water and Sewer meeting that preceded the council meeting, the council members deferred a decision on an ordinance that would prohibit residents with wells from using sprinklers during periods of water restrictions. The ordinance is sought by Arthur Christman, who has argued that private wells are indirectly linked to the town reservoir, and that it is unfair to impose restrictions only on connected water users.

“If Jamestown has a sole source aquifer designation, it means we’re all ‘drinking out of the same cup,’” Christman said. “So, people [with wells] should not be using their sprinklers at times when I could have my water shut off for watering my garden. There is something radically wrong with that.”

The council felt that it would be premature to pass an islandwide ordinance on water use restrictions before confirming with study data that private well use affects water levels in the reservoir. White suggested that the town launch an education campaign on best watering practices during the data-gathering process; Winsor said the education effort should include signage indicating that Jamestown has a sole source aquifer designation from the Environmental Protection Agency.

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