2011-01-06 / Front Page

State puts deadline on turbine grant money

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Jamestown Town Council will meet this evening, Thursday, Jan. 6, to decide if it’s worth spending up to $25,000 to find out if the Pell Bridge would have a major impact on the wind energy available to a Taylor Point wind turbine.

If the study indicates that bridge turbulence would not substantially reduce the output of a turbine, the councilors can then debate the merits of launching two other studies that would enable them to determine whether or not the revenue from a Taylor Point turbine would justify its construction and interconnection costs.

Town Council members voted to hold the special session, which starts tonight at 6 p.m., during their Jan. 3 meeting. Councilor Ellen Winsor raised the concern about potential turbulence from the bridge during the Council’s Dec. 13 meeting.

In a Jan. 3 memo to the Council, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said his discussions with several consultants confirm that “the bridge may create turbulence that will influence power production to some unknown degree. This variable was not accounted for in the wind feasibility study but must be evaluated.” The memo also notes that “the town’s consultant to the Wind Energy Committee had proposed that on-site wind measurements should be taken over time to determine wind velocity behavior and confirm projections. However, to date this step has not been taken.”

The answer to the turbulence question has become even more time-sensitive than it was on Dec. 13. That’s because the state Energy Office has informed all recipients of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants for renewable-energy projects that the Department of Energy will withdraw those grants from all recipients that have not spent at least half their awards by June 30.

Consequently, Jamestown – which was awarded $750,000 for turbine construction – has six months in which to spend $375,000 on a turbine project, which remains stuck in a quagmire of unanswered questions.

“It’s a very severe and formidable time constraint,” Keiser told the Council. He added that there was another way to look at the situation. “If the town moves forward with this [study] expenditure and we don’t meet the June 30 deadline, we could still proceed with a public-private partnership because the tax bill passed last month by Congress provides a greater incentive [for such partnerships]. Previously, there was a tax credit – but now there’s a cash award equaling 30 percent of project costs. And, the ARRA money and the cash awards could be combined. So, our cost to build a turbine could conceivably be reduced by 50 percent.”

Keiser also said that, based on his review of the feasibility study performed for the town, a smaller Taylor Point turbine – meaning a turbine with an output significantly less than 1.5 megawatts – might be worth considering.

“Its returns would be more modest,” he said, “but we wouldn’t have to pay for exorbitant upgrades to our grid.”

Councilor Bob Bowen disagreed, arguing that smaller tur- bines don’t work financially because, among other reasons, “we wouldn’t benefit as much from [selling excess electricity to National Grid]. I still favor a municipally owned facility. If we fall out of the running for the ARRA money, we could consider going another route. But we would still have to do these studies.”

Jamestown resident Blake Dickinson warned the Council that, even if there was some way to meet the June 30 deadline for spending the first half of the ARRA grant, “there is no way you will make the March 2012 deadline” for completing the project, in which case the DOE would withdraw the second half of Jamestown’s grant.

However, Dickinson also argued that meeting the June deadline was impossible, as well. “The [wind-measurement] study will take two to three months and it will take one to two months just to put the study out for bid.”

Council President Mike Schnack said, “My decision is not based on a financial deadline. My decision is based on the feasibility of the project. We don’t even know what we can build and connect [to the local grid]. I don’t want to guess anymore. I want to know. And the information [from all three studies] will give us a ‘go/ no-go’ answer.”

Keiser said that the wind measurements at Taylor Point would be performed with a Sonic Detection and Ranging system.

“They literally measure the vertical column of wind,” he said. In response to the observation that the measurements would occur during the winter, and that the direction and density of the wind differs from winter to summer, Keiser said, “That’s true. But extrapolations can be made, and, if the measurements indicate an effect during the winter, there is likely to be an effect in the summer. In fact, if we were to learn that there’s an effect during the winter, it may induce us to keep testing through the summer.”

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