2010-10-28 / Editorial

Town Council urges rejection of wind turbine referendum

VIEWPOINT

On Nov. 2 voters will cast ballots for candidates for state offices and on a local referendum to authorize bonding for a $6.5 million wind turbine in Jamestown. As recent Jamestown Press articles have reported, the Town Council is urging voters to reject this question.

Understandably, voters are unclear on the reasons for the council’s reversal of support for this wind energy project. This viewpoint will explain the history of the Town’s assessment of wind energy potential and the events that have led to the decision of the council to alter course on the planned turbine at Taylor Point.

In March 2007, the Town Council appointed a Wind Energy Committee to investigate the potential to utilize wind energy to supply power for both town and school buildings and facilities. The sitting council authorized the expenditure of $25,000 to retain a consultant to conduct a comprehensive feasibility study and the state awarded a $30,000 grant to support a total study cost of $55,000.

The study was designed to:

1) Identify town or state-owned sites that possess sufficient wind resources for power generation;

2) Document permitting requirements and impacts of a wind turbine on aviation, wetlands, birds, bats, protected species and plants;

3) Perform a technical and cost analysis of the integration of the wind generator with the National Grid transmission infrastructure;

4) Develop a detailed cost-benefi t analysis of each technically feasible siting option.

In October 2009, the final wind study concluded that wind turbine development at Taylor Point and Fort Getty would meet federal requirements, is technically feasible, has acceptable environmental impacts, and would return a positive cash flow in each year of a 20-year project life span.

In February 2010, on the basis of the wind study findings, the Wind Energy Committee recommended that the council support two 1.65 megawatt utility-scale turbines: one at Fort Getty and one at Taylor Point. The council chose to pursue a single turbine at Taylor Point. Two factors led the council to select this option. First, the town must determine the compatibility of all potential future land uses at Ft. Getty before a large wind tower can be deemed compatible with this location. Secondly, the council believes that moving cautiously with the town’s investment in wind energy is prudent and sound fiscal management.

So what has changed since the February council vote to alter the council’s support for this project?

In June, town staff began to develop a wind energy education and information plan for the council to present at public workshops prior to the November referendum. Staff met with several consulting groups to assist with this effort. In the course of these discussions, an application was submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration to gain approval for a 400-foot turbine at Taylor Point. On Sept. 8, the FAA issued a Letter of Determination limiting the elevation of any structure to 202-feet. This FAA restriction is based on the interference of the taller turbine on instrument flight procedures for aircraft approach to Quonset Point.

An aerospace engineer was hired by the town to evaluate the FAA ruling. This independent analysis confirmed the FAA findings. The aerospace engineer advises that the town can appeal the FAA decision and could obtain a 350-foot turbine height approval. This effort will require expenditure of up to $8,000 and take several months for a new decision.

The FAA finding conflicts with the conclusions and recommendations of the Wind Feasibility Study, prompting the town to question other elements of the study. One additional area of significant concern that has been identified is the electrical interconnection to the National Grid. Based on communications with National Grid engineers, town staff reports that the capacity of the overhead wires and substation will likely require more costly improvements and upgrades than detailed in the wind study. Clearly the divergent view by the National Grid further erodes confidence in the study generally and, more specifi cally, the conclusions about the positive fiscal outcomes of the recommended wind projects.

Where does this leave the Town regarding the future of wind energy in Jamestown? This council fully supports continued assessment of the role of wind power and other renewable energy sources on the island. However, we cannot ask the voters to support passage of a $6.5 million bond authorization for a now-undefined wind turbine project with unknown financial implications for the community. We urge all voters to reject the bond question.

The Town Council approved a motion to adopt this statement on the Wind Energy referendum on October 18, 2010 by a vote of 4 to 1. Councilors Mike Schnack, Bob Bowen, Bill Murphy, and Mike White voted for the Viewpoint and Councilor Ellen Winsor voted against it.

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