Bristol Withdraws From the EBEC Wind Turbine Project – And Other Reservations While We’re At It

Some quick background. The East Bay Energy Consortium (“EBEC”) consists of nine towns on the East Bay of Rhode Island which had banded together with the following goals.

… to develop a regional wind energy system that will produce a sufficient quantity of electricity equivalent to the total municipal load of all nine members. We will take advantage of state legislation favoring municipally-owned renewable energy projects, and exploit the economic leverage accruing from building a multi-turbine installation for the benefit of multiple communities.
…to: 1) reduce the energy load in the respective communities, thereby saving taxpayer money now and in the future; 2) develop local assets and technologies (wind) in an effort to offset reliance on foreign resources; and 3) take advantage of the economies of scale by doing the project collaboratively and collectively to benefit the entire region.

The project has so far received $435,000 in grantsaka, federal tax dollars – from the EDC (yes, that EDC) and is currently in the “pre-construction” phase.

In August 2011 EBEC erected a Met tower on site. This tower will gather wind data for one year. This data is required for financing.

Best I can figure from the research I did, at this point, the EBEC cannot proceed too much further without the RI General Assembly passing legislation more formally codifying the EBEC’s existence and bestowing upon them the powers that they would need to finance and build a wind turbine project.
Now we come to Friday’s stop-the-turbines-presses development, reported by EastBayRI.com.

Bristol’s involvement in the quest to build a regional wind turbine is in limbo after the town administrator yanked Bristol representatives from future meetings and the Bristol Town Council voted to oppose any new spending by the group.
The town administrator’s action came the day after Bristol resident Marina Peterson questioned her town’s ongoing involvement in the project. Along with Warren resident Andy Shapiro, a former member of the East Bay Energy Consoritum, and speaking at a Bristol Town Council meeting on Aug. 8, Ms. Peterson sharply criticized Planner Diane Williamson as the town’s representative to the consoritum.

This EastBayRI article does not provide the substance of the citizen objections that triggered the town’s pull-back from this project. However, from Marina Peterson’s letter to the editor late last week, it appears, among other things, that the EBEC may have gotten over their skis legally.
But in good government fashion or bad, legalities can be straightened out. This is especially true where an authorizing body (the RI General Assembly) is involved that has a soft spot in its heart for green energy which then gives rise to a propensity not to look too closely at cost factors. The larger matter is whether the East Bay Energy Consortium’s wind turbine project should even proceed.
The first of the two serious problems that I see with this project and this consortium appears to have been resolved a couple of months ago. Thanks to citizens sounding the alarm and our elected officials heeding them, the proposal to give the EBEC the power of eminent domain has been withdrawn. This is a very good thing as it was a complete non-starter. It is quizzical, in light of its grossly expanded use and abuse, that our elected officials, state and federal, should possess the power of eminent domain, much less an unelected quasi-public entity, as is envisioned that the EBEC would become.
The second serious problem is cost. Here we find precious few answers to the following questions. (If I have missed something in my research, please let me know.)
Electric Rate

At what electric rate would the towns be purchasing power from the project? Is there any stipulation that it will be at or below the market rate for electricity generated by more conventional means? If not, why not? If not, why should the residents and businesses of the nine towns pay more in taxes to fund an artificially higher electric rate?

Maintenance and Repairs

Who pays for maintenance and repairs of the turbines? An unforeseen half million dollar repair appears to have torpedoed the income and expense projections of the Portsmouth wind turbine, which was just three years old. Have the costs of such breakdowns and repairs been factored into the cost of the EBEC project and the resulting electric rate?

Bonds

Bonds would have to be issued to fund this project if it goes forward. In the event of default, will the taxpayers or ratepayers in the nine cities and towns of the EBEC have to pick up the bill?

Whatever the motive, I applaud the Bristol Town Council’s decision to withdraw from the EBEC. All nine cities and towns should use this as a breather to attempt to quantify some of these questions of cost – WITHOUT the infusion of any additional tax dollars, please – before making a decision as to whether to proceed with the project.

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Max D
Max D
9 years ago

Has Portsmouth got a quote for scrap metal yet? This might be the best ROI.

GaryM
GaryM
9 years ago

Monique,
I attended the Senate hearings and presented a financial analysis showing the wind farm might never make money even with the anticipated rate payer subsidies.
Senator Walaska (D – Warwick) turned to me with a straight face and said that the GA could simply increase the renewable energy charge on everyone’s electric bill to offset any future losses.
Under this “bottomless subsidy” model, I think this will be a successful project by EDC standards.

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