2011-08-04 / Front Page

National Grid: Turbine could cost $2 million

BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The latest shadow to fall across Jamestown’s wind turbine initiative has the shape of a price tag, and the number it’s displaying is huge: up to $2 million in upgrades to accommodate the power from the 1.65-megawatt windmill proposed for Taylor Point. The longawaited estimate from National Grid was disclosed during the Town Council’s Aug. 1 meeting.

The estimate ensures that a final turbine decision is still a long ways off. And there were other, longstanding issues tabled during the meeting, including a conservation easement for foreclosed properties and the selection of a contractor to record council meetings.

Despite its enormity, the National Grid estimate to replace the power lines running to North Road didn’t elicit much discussion. The news was presented by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, who had only learned of the estimate that morning – during a meeting with four National Grid engineers.

Jamestown’s power lines have a 4.16-kilovolt capacity, which would limit the output of a Taylor Point wind turbine to 500 kilowatts. To carry the load from a 1.65-megawatt turbine to the North Road feeder lines, which have a 23 kilovolt capacity, “we would have to spend potentially up to $2 million on upgrades,” Keiser said.

The $2 million estimate assumes upgrades to overhead wires. “We could save some money if we buried [dedicated cables] across the golf course and did some of the [digging] ourselves,” Keiser added.

The estimate is preliminary, and “National Grid will need specific parameters to predict the interconnection costs [more accurately],” said Council President Mike Schnack, who attended the meeting with National Grid experts. “Until we run an economic model, we can’t ask National Grid to do that study,” Schnack added.

National Grid would charge $25,000 for a detailed impact study. Alteris Renewables, which will install the wind turbine if the town proceeds with the project, could run the economic models.

As things stand, Keiser said, the council should plan on scheduling a workshop to discuss the output options and launch an economic analysis to find out how much revenue a wind turbine would have to produce to offset infrastructure costs.

There are a couple of other issues to address, as well. One of those is a concern communicated to the council earlier this summer by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which is worried about the aesthetics of a Taylor Point turbine – and which would have a say in the work because the turbine interconnection would run across, or under, the Newport Pell Bridge toll plaza.

A second issue is the wind energy available at Taylor Point to spin the turbine blades, along with the level of turbulence caused by the presence of the bridge. Wind and turbulence data are being gathered at the site proposed for the turbine, but the results haven’t been publicly released.

An endeavor that’s been kicking around as long as the wind turbine initiative is the effort to set up a video-recording system for council meetings. The proposal to hire a contractor to record the meetings, and possibly stream them over the Internet, is ripe for a decision, but a motion for a vote has proven elusive.

At its July 5 meeting, Keiser presented the councilors with a summary of the cost estimates from two of the three bidders: ATR and Sav Rebecchi, the owner of the Jamestown Record who is already recording council meetings for his website. Rebecchi has offered to embed his videos on a town webpage for free. ATR, which has proposed a two-camera system, would charge a one-time hardware and installation fee of $25,015 in addition to an annual fee of $6,465 per year.

The councilors responded to the summary by requesting copies of all the bids, including the submission from ClerkBase, which is currently managing the town’s searchable database of council minutes.

The councilors also asked Keiser to find out if the town could use for recurring contractor fees the annual, $10,000 technology grants awarded by the state to municipalities for their information technology needs. Prior to the meeting, Keiser informed the councilors that the grants could, in fact, be used for those fees.

However, instead of using the grant information as a springboard for a vote, the councilors asked Keiser to provide them with a summary of all the bids – with Councilor Bill Murphy saying he “wouldn’t know what to vote on” if someone offered a motion for a vote, just then.

Besides the frustration expressed after each recent failure to reach a vote, Councilor Bob Bowen said, “I would be opposed to having a contractual agreement with the Jamestown Record.” Councilor Ellen Winsor replied that she is “perfectly confident” with the services offered by Rebecchi, adding that “the audio and picture quality are fine.”

The impasse could be broken if the council brings the bids to a vote during its next meeting, which is scheduled for Aug. 15. (Although Town Clerk Cheryl Fernstrom said that she is “99 percent” sure that the meeting would be postponed.)

A far different issue, which is becoming controversial after initially emerging as a straightforward proposal, is the pending transfer of development rights to 100 foreclosed lots in the Jamestown Shores to the Conanicut Island Land Trust. The proposal surfaced during the council’s July 18 meeting, and though there weren’t any red flags raised during that meeting, Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero was asked to review the draft contract.

Now that the draft contract has been reviewed, and the councilors have had an opportunity to study it, the red flags are up.

Winsor pointed out that the contract would award to the land trust 50 percent of any condemnation proceedings, and raised a question about both the frequency of groundwater monitoring and the adequacy of the associated recordkeeping. She also noted that the Conservation Commission wants an opportunity to review the contract.

Bowen said, “We need to take a careful look at this,” asking Ruggiero if the language of the contract was standard

Although Ruggiero said the terms reflect the usual boilerplate, Schnack said he was uncomfortable with the idea of sharing “50 percent of any award” with the land trust. He also pointed out that the transfer “would be forever, and the town will be sacrificing tax revenue to for the benefit of the sores. Everyone on the island will be paying to help protect the shores’ water.”

One decision that the council reached involves the town’s ongoing energy efficiency survey. The results of the preliminary survey were presented to the council by an account executive, Kathy Stanley, from Johnson Controls – the contractor performing the surveys for the Washington County Regional Planning Council.

The surveys are being funded largely with federal stimulus money. Jamestown won’t be charged for this phase of the project, but things have become slightly more complicated because the council voted to approve an Investment Grade Audit agreement with Johnson Controls and the Planning Council.

Under the agreement, the town would pay 6.5 cents for every square foot of building space which isn’t upgraded for greater energy efficiency. That works out $4,000 if the town does nothing in response to the findings of the Investment Grade Audit. The preliminary results indicate that the town would have to spend about $300,000 to increase the energy effi ciency of its municipal buildings and their heating and ventilation systems.

(The schools have also had a preliminary audit, but those results have been referred to school management, which will subsequently refer the findings to the School Committee.)

Keiser told the council that the town is not inclined to pick and choose improvements, which means that the council will find a way to finance $300,000 in upgrades at some point down the road. Stanley said the town could expect to recoup its investment in about 15 years, adding that it would be been a much longer period if the audit had recommended window replacement – an investment which wouldn’t pay for itself for 50 to 60 years.

There was one other presentation to the council, although it was for “future reference” instead of any decision, and it was led by Christy Smith, executive director of the Potter League for Animals.

Jamestown had entered into discussions with Potter League when it was decided to eliminate the position of an animal control officer, and it looked like North Kingstown was closing its shelter. North Kingstown has since decided to keep its shelter open, so those discussions tapered off. But Smith was on hand to inform the councilors of the league’s various services in case a need for them should arise in the future.

Currently, “We have only one dog a year that has to be picked up, and we’re handling stray cats ourselves,” Keiser said.

Resident Peter Coble asked Smith if the Potter League “could do what the town and [the state Department of Environmental Management] don’t want to do now that we don’t have an animal control officer.”

Smith replied that the Potter League doesn’t provide field services, but would be willing to talk if Jamestown had an interest in exploring the options.

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