By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — Momentum is slowing down for the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC) and its efforts to erect wind turbines in the Tiverton Industrial Park.
The committee representing eight cities and towns from East Providence to Newport put off its current legislative effort to establish itself as an official entity this year. The decision hampers the EBEC's ability to raise money through bond offerings and likely adds at least a year to its plan to build eight to 10 turbines on 494 acres of mostly undeveloped forestland in Tiverton.
In recent weeks, online criticism of the EBEC cropped up on Patch and The Hummel Report. At the EBEC’s monthly meeting March 4, several of the project’s frequent opponents, including Tea Party blogger Marina Peterson and wind-energy skeptics Benjamin Riggs Jr. and Peter Hewett, sought answers on the EBEC’s spending in November and December of last year. They also questioned the EBEC’s fiduciary relationship with the state Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
Newport representative and EBEC chairwoman Jeanne Marie Napolitano explained that much of the condemnation toward the EBEC has been rectified, such as the power of eminent domain, a provision the EBEC dropped from its legislation in early 2012. “The misinformation out there is still ongoing,” Napolitano said. “The public is totally misinformed.”
Peterson, Hewett and Riggs, however, are persisting in finding out how some $400,000 from the EDC and private funders was spent by the EBEC. Napolitano referred them to the manager of the Renewable Energy Fund at the EDC.
It's future uncertain, the EBEC still plans to hold monthly meetings and press forward with the Tiverton project. Data collection from a wind-monitoring tower at the Tiverton site ends in August. The information, so far, shows that wind energy is viable at the site.
EBEC project manager Eric Busch said despite delays the project is in phase three of five. Other objectives include reaching an agreement with Tiverton to use the land and negotiate agreements with National Grid for buying the electricity and connecting to the power grid.
EBEC’s Middletown representative, Christine Forster, said the EBEC isn’t quitting. “We’re not really in flux. We are evolving. We still have many options.”
After the meeting Newport City Council member Justin MClaughlin said he voted to approve Newport’s participation in the EBEC in 2009. But, he’s heard very little from the committee about the several changes it has made. “I’m afraid they’ve pushed the envelope of the original authority,” he said. “I hope that we can clarify this.”
The EBEC was formed in 2009 as a regional municipal collaborative. The group looked to build a wind turbine project to utilize the 3.5 megawatts of net-metering allowances given to each municipality. The net-metering law changed, however, prompting the EBEC to move forward with a revenue-sharing plan using the state's new fixed-pricing law, known as the distributed generation contracts law.
The original start date for the wind farm was Jan. 1, 2012. But the project was delayed as competitors sought the build their own wind farms. A major setback occurred last year when legislation to establish the EBEC as a quasi-state agency was halted by a campaign launched by wind-energy opponents and the Ocean State Tea Party in Action. Responding to the outcry, many town/city councils distanced themselves from the project. Gov. Lincoln Chafee even sent a letter of disapproval to the House and Senate. The bill was revised several times to remove the controversial items, such as eminent domain.
“But by that time the well had been poisoned. (The legislation) became a non-starter,” Napolitano said Monday.
Lacking recognition as an entity, the EBEC can't begin negotiations with National Grid and has fewer options in raising capital. It currenly holds less than $40,000. Most of that money is reserved for completing the wind analysis. Napolitano said other funders or partnerships are being considered.
The opponents, however, are still commited to halting the project.
The eight communities represented by the EBEC include Barrington, East Providence, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Portsmouth, Tiverton, and Warren. Bristol dropped out of the consortium last October.