Jamestown Wants to Take Advantage of its Wind

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

JAMESTOWN, R.I. — Some of Rhode Island’s best wind whips across Conanicut Island, and town officials and residents both agree it’s time to harness this renewable energy source.

“There’s enough wind in Jamestown. There’s a lot of wind,” said Michael Larkin, one of seven members of the Jamestown Wind Energy Committee who have spent the past two-plus years studying the idea. “We have some of the best wind in the state. Besides Little Compton and Third Beach in Middletown, Jamestown is the best area in the state for wind.”

To utilize the island’s abundant wind energy, the town has tentative plans to build a 2-megawatt wind turbine (for a comparison, the Portsmouth High School wind turbine is a 1.5-megawatt facility) at Fort Getty, on the western side of the island and in between the other two sites that were seriously considered — Beavertail to the south and Taylor Point to the north.

Beavertail offers the best wind, Larkin said, but would have been a much more expensive project. Connecting a wind turbine at that location to the existing power grid would have required longer transmission lines — it costs about $1 million per mile — and an upgrade to the old lines already there, he said.

To make up for the increased cost of siting a wind energy project such a distance away from the nearest substation, the Wind Energy Committee’s hired consultant, South Kingstown-based Applied Science Associates Inc., determined there would have to be three turbines erected at Beavertail.

The Wind Energy Committee ultimately determined that the Fort Getty site would be the most profitable, would not be a nuisance to neighbors, would fit well into existing and proposed uses at the recreational area, and would be the best location based on a host of other criteria.

The estimated cost of installing the 2-megawatt turbine at Fort Getty is $6,177,256. Over the course of 20 years, however, the energy generated by the turbine would save Jamestown nearly $3 million, according to Don Wineberg, chairman of the Wind Energy Committee.

And, unlike the Cape Wind project, which has been in the works since 2001 and has faced a relentless storm of criticism, Wineberg said he hasn’t heard a peep of opposition to Jamestown’s plan.

In fact, it’s been just the opposite. Meetings about the town’s wind energy plan have featured public pleas for more turbines. At the most recent public hearing, held last month and attended by about 60 people, no one spoke against the idea.

“I’m not sure why no one has spoken out against the plan, but I like to think that romantically we all know how important the wind is to an island community,” Wineberg said. “Many of us are sailors and wind energy is an attractive alternative.”

Potential funding sources for the $6.1 million Forty Getty wind turbine include a grant from the state’s Economic Development Corporation, a town-issued municipal bond and federal stimulus money.

If the Town Council approves a wind turbine at Fort Getty — or at one of the other proposed locations — local voters would then be asked to approve the financing, perhaps at a special financial meeting this winter or spring, during the town’s regular budget meeting in June or be put before voters as a ballot question next November.

Larkin and Wineberg both believe most local residents would like to see the town power itself with nothing but wind energy. While net metering makes the use of wind energy possible for municipalities, they said powering the entire island with wind energy wouldn’t be feasible — at least right now.

Under a state law enacted this past summer, any surplus of renewable energy generated by municipalities on city or town-owned property can now be sold to the utility company that serves the area. Before the net metering law was passed, the surplus in Rhode Island was eligible only for conversion into “renewable electricity” credits.

A 2-megawatt wind turbine at Fort Getty would produce about a quarter of Jamestown’s energy needs, according to Larkin. He said the turbine could provide power to about 600 of the island’s 2,200 or so homes.

The 146-page study was funded by a $30,000 Economic Development Corporation grant and $25,000 from the town.