Thursday, December 31, 2009

Renewable power in Jackson, Maine, redux

Some of our neighbors here in Jackson, Maine have worked themselves into an incredible tizzy over the proposals of Competitive Energy Service (CES), a regional wind power development company, to place an as-yet unspecified number of turbines on the ridge to the north, shared with the Maine Town of Dixmont. This proposal spurred the drafting of a Jackson wind power planning ordinance, which is sufficiently restrictive to end the company's project. The ordinance has not yet been subjected to a Town vote. The two sides are yelling at one another over whether or not the draft ordinance is subjected alone to an up-or-down vote, or whether the selectors may present an alternative ordinance, less restrictive.

The most recent developments are a pair of competing petitions in favor of the two options above, and some kind of proposal by CES, to share turbine ownership with the Town, possibly employing a Tax Increment Finance District. I haven't yet read this proposal, so I shouldn't write about it. I hope to read it today, since the Town office is open 12 - 5pm, assuming the weather permits.

As I began to write this, there is the small matter of an approaching storm, very large. Even wind turbine debates stop for big snowstorms in Jackson, Maine.

I haven't involved myself much in the Jackson debate since at the most recent count I have five other community-owned wind projects to assist, including the state-owned site at Charleston, Maine that is my current priority. My usual role is to measure the wind and perform the required power production analysis and cost-comparisons, as well as GIS wind mapping and planning. The Jackson anemometry is being performed by CES in any case, and although I did make some GIS maps earlier for the Town, and I made some comments on the draft ordinance, I haven't done anything else.

I don't have time or patience for yelling, in any case. All I can offer is science, and there's no reason to yell about that.

I can't do much science right now, even. I have not been able to see any of the data. I'd like to see data since that would allow me to perform an independent analysis of the company's proposals, to see if the claims made for the value of community ownership are reasonable. According to the anti-wind group's newsletter, the CES proposal suggests revenue of $400,000/year from one GE 1.5 MW turbine on the Town's land. This is in line with the $250,000 to $700,000 that is feasible with these turbines on Class 3 and above sites, depending on the power of the wind and the cost of capital.

This might be a helpful fact to know, that the proposed revenue is within the range of feasibility, or not. It would be necessary to have a full year's wind data from the Common Hill anemometer to know for sure. The company has the data. The fact is, if the data didn't show at least a Class 3 site, a preferably a Class 4, no such deal is possible. A dead duck.

One useful fact. No spin, no shouting at each other. No rude accusations of double dealing or mental aberration. Just a fact.

If my neighbors were willing to listen and be reasonable with one another, there are a number of other facts that I could tell them that would be helpful. Right now they're not willing. In fact, they're still very much in the shouting-at-each-other phase of "conflict resolution," as the pro-turbine side and anti-turbine sides compete to see if their side can end up holding all the cards and calling the shots.

There isn't very much room for science in this debate, so I'm well out of it. But sooner or later the manoeuvrings for absolute power over the proposal will resolve themselves and we'll either have a planning environment where turbines are permissible, or we won't. If we end up with a regime where turbines are viable, then there'll be a useful role for me to play in evaluating the proposals.

Other facts I'd like to evaluate:

1) Because of geography of power lines, the connection to the grid must be made through Dixmont. Another possibility is Thorndike, to the west. Dixmont has already passed a restrictive ordinance. Connection is an expensive part of turbine costs. How does the company propose to make the connection? What is their estimate of cost to the Town?

2) Comments made by the company representative at an earlier meeting in Dixmont indicate that the wind on 1200 foot Mount Harris is Class 4. If Mount Harris is Class 4, Common Hill, at 900 feet, is Class 3 or less. Is there enough wind? I'd like to know.

3) Is a TIF District proposed? If, so, for how much? is it a favorable proposition, based on the finances? I wrote the State of Georgia's Greenspace TIF law, and have some expertise in that regard.

For the time being though, asking these kinds of questions are impossible, mostly because the two sides are at each others' throats and will be for some time to come.

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