2011-03-10 / Front Page

Wind turbine prospects become more confusing

By Phil Zahodiakin

Despite a promising development for a Jamestown wind turbine, the overall prospects for the endlessly debated project have become more complex because of a Public Utilities Commission investigation into electricity sales from the municipally owned turbine in Portsmouth.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser delivered the good news and the bad news during the March 7 meeting of the Jamestown Town Council.

The good news for wind turbine advocates is that the plan for a 410-foot-high windmill at Taylor Point has received “a favorable review” from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, Keiser said. He added that the RIAC would support Jamestown’s appeal of the Federal Aviation Administration determination that the electromagnetic field from a 410-foot tower would interfere with the avionics of airplanes approaching the National Guard airbase at Quonset Point.

The FAA ruled that a Taylor Point turbine could not exceed 202 feet, which would sharply reduce the output of the 1.65-megawatt turbine that the Council had endorsed. Keiser explained that the RIAC reviewed the findings of a consultant, Federal Airspace and Airways, which concluded last September that an appeal of the FAA ruling, which is now under way, could be successful.

“The airport corporation has a close working relationship with the FAA,” Keiser said, “and they will [support] our appeal of their determination, which means we will probably end up with a green light for a National Grid interconnection study.”

Jamestown faces a tight deadline to access the $750,000 in federal stimulus money awarded in support of a wind turbine, which means that the initial Grid estimate of interconnection costs would have to be delivered in record time. However, during their earlier meeting with the Council and the Jamestown School Committee, state Sen. M. Teresa Paiva Weed and state Rep. Deborah Ruggiero assured the councilors that they would write a letter asking the Grid to expedite the initial study – assuming the FAA reverses its height restriction – and deliver an estimate by mid-May.

“So, things are looking a lot better than they were a month ago,” Keiser said.

But there is an issue casting a shadow over the economic viability of a Jamestown turbine; namely, the Public Utilities Commission inquiry to determine if Portsmouth does not meet the terms of the netmetering law. The question has arisen because Portsmouth is distributing all of its electricity directly into the power grid instead of sending some of the electricity to municipal facilities, which is raising questions about the boundaries of the net-metering law, in general.

Keiser said that a citizen filed a complaint about the Portsmouth deal with National Grid with the Public Utilities Commission. Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero warned that “there is an expectation that the PUC will rule adversely” against Portsmouth, and that the ruling could affect the viability of a Jamestown turbine.

Charlestown, which is planning to build a wind turbine, is intervening in the complaint against Portsmouth. Councilor Bob Bowen pointed out that “we’re in a little different position than Charlestown and much different than Portsmouth.” This is because Jamestown could hook up to the wastewater treatment plant and meet the letter of the net-metering law by connecting the turbine to a municipally owned facility.

During the School Committee meeting that took place just prior to the Council meeting, Paiva-Weed said, “In fairness to National Grid, there is a competition issue [raised by the Portsmouth arrangement]. But my focus is municipalities and I was among the original sponsors of the net-metering law.”

Paiva Weed urged Jamestown to “send representatives” to the April 7 Public Utilities Commission hearing on the Portsmouth dispute and submit a resolution in support of Portsmouth and other towns planning to build wind-turbines before the March 23 deadline for written testimony.

In response, Bowen offered, and a majority of the councilors endorsed, a motion for Ruggiero to draft the resolution suggested by Paiva Weed. Councilor Ellen Winsor abstained from the vote, and subsequently voted against a motion to join Charlestown in its intervention against the Public Utilities Commission because she felt that the decision to join the intervention should be considered when the Council has the text of the resolution. Under the decision to join the Charlestown intervention, Jamestown will pay half of the $2,000 to $3,000 in legal expenses.

In other business, Keiser said that the consulting firm (NORESCO) retained by the Washington County Regional Planning Council to perform energy audits of municipal buildings had finished auditing all of Jamestown’s schools and municipal buildings. Asked by Murphy if NORESCO will perform an audit of the Jamestown Golf Course, Keiser said that this audit will be performed at a later date.

Keiser also mentioned that the town launched its solicitation for police chief candidates last week. Since then, Keiser said, “We have received 15 resumes in response to the advertisement.” He added that “we will start screening the applicants in three weeks.”

Also, Councilor Mike White said a planned presentation from state Department of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, which had been scheduled for March 8, has been re-scheduled for April 11.

Keiser said that the town has two options to address the gaping hole in the East Ferry seawall. One option would be to repair the seawall at a cost of $10,000 – a repair that would be expected to last about 10 years. The second option would be to replace the seawall at a cost of $150,000. The Council will decide on a course of action at its next meeting on March 21.

Keiser also told the Council that the interminably delayed Downtown Improvement project will commence this coming Monday, with the first of the jobs being the removal of six trees in preparation for sidewalk reconstruction. Keiser noted that the work will run through early spring and resume for completion this fall.

In other news, Bowen said that the requested revisions to the longdelayed solicitation for proposals to provide live video streaming of Council meetings are still not ready. Keiser said the revised request for proposals will be ready for a Council vote at its next meeting.

Also, the Council voted to award Landworks of Worcester, Mass., a $10,000 contract to facilitate the Ft. Getty workshop. Asked by Winsor if the contract includes a requirement for Landworks to run financial analyses of potential revenue-generating options for the park, Keiser said, “Yes. In fact, they demonstrated the best understanding of economic analysis. The lowest bidder fell woefully short in their ability to do analytical work.”

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