2012-09-20 / News

Turbine bond still intact

Town terminated project, but grant is still available
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

One additional debate has blown up over the abandoned plan for a Taylor Point wind turbine, and the discussion is over what to do about the $6.5 million bond, which voters approved to pay for the project.

The Town Council voted on Aug. 20 to kill the project, which had become a source of controversy among residents. The vote was 4-1, with Councilor Bob Bowen maintaining the panel should defer a final decision until town officials had collected all the data about the project.

At the time, the Town Council did not take any action about the bond. However, during their Sept. 4 meeting, the councilors dealt with the lingering question about the bond.

“We have a $6.5 million bond sitting out there,” said Town Council President Michael Schnack.

He indicated that Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero had been asked for advice and to make a report.

“Do you have a report?” he asked Ruggiero. Ruggiero replied he had researched the question and concluded the best course would be to not take any action – at least for now.

He advised the councilors not to rescind the $6.5 million bond, which voters had authorized, because going through the legal process would be unnecessary. To rescind the bond would require both a Town Council ordinance and a special act from the General Assembly.

Ruggiero said before municipalities apply for a bond, state law requires a special act from the General Assembly authorizing it.

Ruggiero verified the process with the bond counsel and determined that nothing would be lost by taking no action – at least until seven years after the General Assembly special act. After that time, town officials could cancel the bond simply by voting on a resolution at a regular council meeting.

Councilor Bill Murphy suggested a tickler file to remind the council when the time had elapsed, but as Murphy and the other councilors considered the dates, they realized two of the seven years had already passed. In reality, they would only need to wait five years.

But Ruggiero pointed out the council wouldn’t really need to act at all because many communities have old bonds – some as old as 20 years – and no action is ever taken.

This no-action option would mean the money to build the Taylor Point wind turbine could stay available for at least five more years, even though the Town Council has voted not to go forward with the renewable energy project.

However, that outcome would not allow another council to build a wind turbine in a different location. The bond reflects the reality that voters intended the money to be available for a turbine at Taylor Point only.

Bowen agreed and said it should be difficult to undo the decision of the voters.

“It should be a difficult process to remove it because the town of Jamestown voted for it,” he said.

“It’s a conundrum,” Councilor Ellen Winsor said. Winsor prompted Ruggiero to spell out the restrictions on the bond appropriation, which were part of the original referendum.

“It was for a 1.5-megawatt turbine at Taylor Point?” she asked.

“I don’t have the bond in front of me,” Ruggiero replied. He added that he could not give all the details but did recall the referendum specified the site and the size of the turbine.

If the council opted not to rescind the bond, she suggested, sometime in the future the wind turbine could be back in play.

“It sounds to me that if the council wanted to put a turbine in the future on that spot, there’s the funding,” Winsor said.

Ruggiero replied that the bond was essentially inactive.

“Nothing will happen,” he said. The $6.5 million would never encumber the town’s finances, unless the councilors specifically took action to draw on the money, and to do that, the councilors would have to take action to resurrect the Taylor Point project, go through a public hearing, and other formalities.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said a new council could not take the Taylor Point money and use it to build a wind turbine elsewhere because there were actually several restrictions on the bond. For the money to be touched, the council would have to act specifically to revive the Taylor Point project and not build a different wind turbine.

Keiser said he was doubtful a new council would act to resurrect the Taylor Point wind turbine project. He said that the difficulty that led the current council to reject the Taylor Point turbine was largely – but not entirely – based on economics. It would have cost $2 million to connect the turbine to the power grid, and Keiser went on to explain the “inordinately high” cost of the interconnection was due to the expense to upgrade the power lines to industrial load capacity. The turbine would require industrial power lines, he said, and that is something the community never needed before.

“Because the town is nonindustrial,” he said, “the power lines never needed to be upgraded to industrial capacity lines.”

Given that expense, Keiser said he doesn’t see any way the wind turbine could become economically viable unless the state or the federal government were to come up with new resources to defray the costs.

Otherwise, he said, “I don’t see any opportunity to reduce those costs.”

Also, he added, another problem had derailed the Taylor Point wind turbine, and that involved the zoning question about the setbacks from Freebody Drive and the timeshare condominiums, which are the closest homes to the site. There was an issue about safety if the distance between the turbine to the road and homes were insufficient. Regulations require a fall zone that ensures if the turbine goes over, it will not land on a road or on other property.

Keiser said a new council would “have the authority” to reconsider Taylor Point “based on the approved $6.5 million bond, but that’s the only site they could pursue that would not require further action.” If the new council wanted to review other sites for a wind turbine, they would need to do additional studies, plus “take another look at wind speeds and Federal Aviation Administration elevation limits,” Keiser said.

Only public land could be considered, and the title deed could not have any covenants or restrictions that would rule out a turbine project. Finally, he said, the cost of the interconnect would still be a problem.

Winsor wanted more information about the “timetable” if the council decided to go against his advice and rescind the bond.

She raised the question after Ruggiero noted the General Assembly could not act on the matter until sometime in 2013, if the councilors decided to ask lawmakers to pass a special act to rescind the bond.

But Ruggiero explained there really wasn’t a specific timetable.

Schnack said the council would have to advertise and hold a public hearing to act on an ordinance to rescind the bond.

Ruggiero summed up the options by repeating that the simplest course of action was to ignore the bond, which could not be used for purpose other than building a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine at Taylor Point.

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