PUC Approves Coventry Wind Turbines

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

COVENTRY, R.I. — The state Public Utility Commission (PUC) has voted unanimously to allow a local wind project to go forward. The project includes two 1.5-megawatt turbines located some 1,600 feet apart on the former Picillo Farm. The 99-acre Superfund site is owned by the town and is actively being cleaned of toxins dumped there illegally during the 1970s. The waste was discovered after drums of sodium aluminum hydride exploded in 1977.

The Town Council approved the wind project last June, but National Grid challenged the electricity agreements, saying the two turbines exceeded the electric capacity limit of 1.5 megawatts required for the state’s fixed-pricing program.

The developer, Wind Energy Development LLC, however, plans to sell electricity from one turbine to the town for 20 years. Power from the second turbine would be sold to the power grid through the fixed-price program, known as the distributed generation (DG) contracts program.

National Grid opposed splitting the turbines' electricity into two power-purchase agreements. It argued that Wind Energy Development was “segmenting” the wind project and that the two turbines should operate under a single contract.

“This is a DG project,” National Grid’s attorney, Thomas Teehan, said at a June 3 hearing.

The three-member PUC board, however, sided with Jerry Elmer of the Conservation Law Foundation and Wind Energy Develoment's attorney Seth Handy. Both argued that the 2011 distributed generation laws don't preclude developers for dividing a two-turbine development into separate power agreements. The segmentation rule does prevent a developer from dividing a 100-megawatt project into 100 different DG contracts.

The PUC agreed. “(National) Grid was wrong. OER (office of Energy Resources) and the others were correct with their decision,” PUC Chairman Elia Germani said at a second hearing on June 6.

After the decision, Teehan said he didn't know if National Grid would appeal.

The project has received all of the necessary permits, and construction is expected to start within 60 days and be operational by June 2014. The turbines are the same model as the North Kingstown Green turbine that started spinning last November. The 411-foot-high North Kingstown turbine was also built by Wind Energy Development, which is owned by Mark DePasquale.

Both Coventry turbines will be the same model as the North Kingstown turbine. One will be 411 feet tall to the tip of the blade. The second will be about 450 feet tall but appear as the same height as its foundation will be lower than the other wind tower.