2012-08-02 / Editorial

Is it time to shelve the wind turbine?

On Monday the Town Council is expected to review the status of the proposal to build a wind turbine at Taylor Point. The wind turbine has generated much debate and will continue to do so as the community weighs such a complicated undertaking.

We believe the overall concept of clean energy produced by wind-powered turbines is worthwhile. But generating electricity is not a core function of our town government – nor should it be. The town already serves as a water utility. Do we really need to expand that scope?

The deal breaker on this project is the interconnection costs. When the town first proposed building a wind turbine, little was known about the ramifications of such a project. It sounded like a good idea. We’ve since learned that it will cost the town an additional $2 million to upgrade the electrical lines to handle the power generated. That’s because Jamestown is a residential community and has virtually no industry. Therefore our utility lines are undersized for the amount of electricity they would need to carry. The debt service on $2 million is about $160,000 annually. Without the expense the wind turbine could more than likely operate at a profit. However, it is questionable whether the town could break even with the high interconnection costs.

Market rates on electricity are another variable that could have a detrimental impact on the turbine balance sheet.

At this point there is also no assurance that the town would receive up to $500,000 from the state to assist with purchasing and erecting the wind turbine. Voters approved a $6.5 million bond issue to build a wind turbine at Taylor Point. That additional half a million from the state is vital to whether the turbine could operate at a profit.

We’re still waiting to hear from state agencies on siting guidelines, so the town has yet to learn whether the Taylor Point location is acceptable. Taylor Point is about the only place on the island where it is feasible to build a wind turbine. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority has voiced its opposition to the project.

The only other town-owned wind turbine in the state is in Portsmouth. It’s had its problems, the latest of which is a $500,000 projected cost to fix the broken device.

There is a bleak outlook for municipally developed wind turbines in Rhode Island. Westerly recently rejected the idea while a host of other communities have either outright banned wind turbines or have placed moratoriums on them.

Other objections to the proposed turbine in Jamestown include the impact on area property values, aesthetics (subjective at best), fall zone issues, shadow flicker and noise impacts.

It appears that the community has lost its enthusiasm for the project. Neighboring residents have indicated that if the town proceeds with construction, there may be litigation expenses that would add to the turbine cost and delay its implementation.

The town has already spent nearly $200,000 ($60,000 came from island taxpayers and the remainder from the state) on its due diligence. A noise study still needs to be funded. Additional costs will be incurred with the permitting process.

A 1.5- to 2-megawatt wind turbine would contribute little to our overall energy needs. It’s a drop in the proverbial bucket. More than anything else, the wind turbine project would be a feel-good effort, one where we could all say, “Gee, look how green we are in Jamestown.”

The environmental and financial rewards do not make this a worthwhile investment for Jamestown. Let’s shelve this project.

— Jeff McDonough

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