Red Flags in the Wind
On first hearing that Tiverton might be the site of a new on-land wind farm, I was more or less ambivalent, but with the feeling that the project would provide more benefit than detriment. But details on the structure of the initiative raise concerns more fundamental than Rhode Island’s habitual not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) attitude:
Nine communities in the region have banded together to form the East Bay Energy Consortium, a group that proposes building a land-based wind farm that would provide enough clean, renewable power for as many as 7,500 homes.
What’s notably different about this new form of economic development is that the towns are the entities receiving the grants and hiring consultants. In other words, this isn’t a matter of a private developer working with municipalities to smooth the path toward construction and industry. It’s the small-time elected officials of towns and cities deciding to go into the wind business, with a start-up cost “between $50 million and $63 million.”
The insidious aspect arises with the intended handling of the money. Although the collaborative idea began as a way to “save taxpayer money,” the wind farm isn’t being envisioned as a sort of utility that would lower taxpayers’ energy bills. Rather:
The group would sell power at market rates, and the member communities would then share revenues to help cover their municipal budgets. Initial estimates for total benefits to the consortium over 20 years range from $23 million to $39 million.
These nine communities might as well be opening up a video game development company. Their notion is to start a profitable business, claiming that the profits will enable them to lighten up on tax collections. If you believe that means tax cuts, well, then you haven’t lived in Rhode Island for very long. More likely, the powers who be have observed that even the confused and apathetic electorates in their towns are chafing at tax levies that double every decade. Municipal leaders are therefore looking for a way to continue spending and to avoid reforms in their inefficient operational practices.
The generally positive view of green energy — which ranges out to cultish adoration on its fringes — provides them cover to dive into a speculative investment, with our tax dollars, probably through bonds, as their initial cash infusion.