2010-11-11 / Front Page

Turbine talk in full spin

By Phil Zahodiakin

Now that Jamestown voters have passed a referendum for a wind turbine, the Town Council, which wanted the ballot question rejected, will re-visit their numerous options that have grown in number since February, when the councilors endorsed Taylor Point as the site for a municipal turbine.

One of the options is simply doing nothing, which is feasible because the referendum doesn’t obligate Jamestown to issue the bond. However, the option of building a town turbine remains on the table – and there are a number of other possibilities that the councilors could explore.

In an Oct. 28 viewpoint published by the Jamestown Press, the Council argued that it wouldn’t be prudent to issue the bond before a number of major questions – which arose just weeks before the election – were answered. Nevertheless, on Nov. 2, the proposal to issue a bond for up to $6.5 million in turbine financing passed by a narrow margin of just 16 votes: 1,490 to 1,476.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said that he was “surprised” by the outcome of the vote. Alluding to a Jan. 25 workshop – the only public, wind turbine forum held by the Council – Keiser said, “We had not put forth any sustained, public education effort to inform the voters as to what the impacts of turbine development might be. So my in- terpretation of the positive vote is that there is substantial support for wind energy on the island.”

Keiser also sees a potential “silver lining” in the outcome. That’s because the passage of the referendum enables the town to build a turbine if the newly identifi ed obstacles are surmounted; or, alternatively, “it opens up the opportunity to potentially collaborate with communities on the West and East Bay.”

One of those opportunities is presented by the East Bay Energy Consortium, a group of communities whose town planners are exploring the feasibility of building a wind farm in Tiverton. The planners will be informed of Jamestown’s interest in potentially joining the group during their next monthly meeting.

If Jamestown joined, the number of member towns would increase to 10; however, it remains to be seen how many of them would have the financing to pay for their own turbine at a Tiverton industrial park proposed for the wind farm.

The municipalities in the consortium are Bristol, Warren, Barrington, East Providence, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton, Middletown and Newport. A $140,000 grant from the Economic Development Corporation has enabled the group to perform a “pre-feasibility” study on the suitability of the Tiverton site for a wind-farm with nine or more turbines. The final number will depend on the size of the turbines selected for the project and the number of communities that sign on.

“I don’t think the site would have the [Federal Aviation Administration] issues that we do,” Keiser said, referring to an FAA letter of determination rejecting a Taylor Point turbine exceeding 450 feet in height because of electromagnetic interference with the avionics of Air National Guard aircraft approaching Quonset Point.

In contrast to the 1.65-megawatt turbine that the Council sought for Taylor Point, the Energy Consortium “is looking at really large ones – 2.5 to 3.5 megawatts,” Keiser said, noting that a 3.5-megawatt turbine would produce 350 percent more electricity than the town uses for all of its municipally owned facilities. Under state regulations, National Grid is required to purchase at retail rates all the electricity generated by municipally owned turbines up to a maximum of 3.5 megawatts.

Previously, Jamestown was proposing to deduct (or “net-meter”) its power needs from the total generated by an island turbine, and selling the remainder to National Grid. However, “with a collaborative approach,” Keiser said, “we would sell whatever portion of the power we helped fund and use the money to pay our bills. There wouldn’t be any offset.”

Keiser added that it was his understanding that the Consortium has been awarded a second grant worth $350,000 to launch a detailed feasibility study, which will ascertain, among other things, the costs of connecting a Tiverton wind farm to the grid.

In the meantime, the Washington County Regional Planning Council has launched an effort to investigate the possibility of building a wind farm somewhere on the western side of Narragansett Bay. “I’ve been contacted by that group to determine Jamestown’s interest in possibly partnering with them as well,” Keiser said. “But at this point they don’t have a defined project or any proposals for a site.”

And then, of course, Jamestown still has the option of building a Taylor Point turbine – which could power the wastewater treatment facility and still produce a potentially profitable amount of energy for Jamestown to sell. The treatment plant represents 15 to 20 percent of municipal energy consumption.

A Florida-based consultancy, Federal Airspace and Airways, had previously informed the town that additional analysis might support a successful appeal of the FAA determination and allow the town to build a 1.5-megawatt turbine at Taylor point. Keiser said the cost of the study would run from $4,000 to $8,000; however, the interconnection cost, and the ability of the Jamestown grid to handle the surge of electricity from a turbine, remains unknown.

“National Grid has told us that they don’t have experience connecting independent power sources greater than 500 kilowatts to a grid with our capacity,” Keiser said. “If we requested a cost analysis from them, there’s a two-step process. First, we pay a $2,500 application fee for an initial feasibility study, which will provide a range of costs. The second step would be requesting a more detailed analysis, and we’ve been told that this could cost tens of thousands of dollars.”

The second-tier analysis would also provide the cost of upgrading the local power grid – if an upgrade is necessary – to handle the surge of power from the turbine. While the necessity for upgrades is unknown, the cost could be enormous.

Nevertheless, the first-tier, interconnection estimate would at least enable the town to determine if a 1.5-megawatt turbine at Taylor Point would be profitable. The Council will address the results of the referendum vote and the possible next steps at its Nov. 15 meeting.

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