GUEST OPINION: Put Tiverton on the green industry map with wind farm

April 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The Town of Tiverton is on the doorstep of an historic decision that will impact its financial future. This refers to ongoing Town Council deliberations regarding the town owned and long empty industrial park. Buying the property may have seemed like a good idea 25 years ago, but today there is only the exhaust stack of a power plant interrupting 170 acres of forested skyline.

The strategy for attracting commercial investment written into the Comprehensive Community Plan approved in the 1980s was sound: a) preserve open space to maintain the town’s rural character and control expenses for schools and public services, and b) increase the commercial tax base by rejuvenating older commercial areas in town and attracting tenants into the industrial park.

Much of that plan has come to fruition. Preserved open space in Weetamoo Woods and Pardon Gray Preserve is a regional attraction. Tiverton Four Corners and North Tiverton’s commercial corridor have seen a remarkable makeover. The buzz surrounding the arrival of Tom’s Market has practically gone nuclear, and the parking lot at Family Ties Restaurant is always jammed. Stonebridge now includes an attractive commercial plaza, a wildly successful coffee shop, and is on the cusp of more improvement with funds identified to repair the bridge abutment.
This progress has been offset, however, by the long-term failure of the industrial park, and little return on a nearly $6 million public expenditure. Over the years, potential investors have come and looked, but left. Today, however, there is one knocking at the door who wants to build. A proposal is before the Town Council from the East Bay Energy Consortium to develop wind energy at the park and on adjacent properties of the town’s two water authorities. EBEC is a nonprofit collaborative of nine East Bay communities, including Tiverton, formed to evaluate municipal renewable energy possibilities. The RI Economic Development Corporation funded an EBEC study that identified the Tiverton site as ideal for wind energy development, with an estimated 20-year average annual income to Tiverton of $1.14 million.
There is another plan on the table for the property, an “Enterprise Park” that essentially continues the original concept for the property. But it resolves none of the obstacles that have always prevented development. Wetlands, boulder fields and slopes have scared away anyone who actually walks the site. That terrain makes it very expensive to develop ($6 million to $8 million has been mentioned). Other issues: No funding for improvements to make the park “pad ready,” and no current study to assess marketability, given other industrial sites available in the region.
By comparison, a wind turbine development requires minimal infrastructure, and EBEC could finance, build and operate it without risk or liability to Tiverton. This is made possible by creating a public corporation governed by a board appointed by EBEC towns, which could issue tax-exempt bonds. Enabling legislation to to create such a legal entity has been filed.
There has been one successful development at the park, a gas-fired power plant that began generating in 2000, and it is instructive to consider why it’s there. It has nothing to do with an industrial park. It was built because the site has a fuel supply (a nearby gas main), it is remote from residential areas, and there is excellent connectivity to the grid, with the main high voltage power line for the area a stone’s throw away. Those same factors make the site favorable for wind power, using wind as the “fuel.”

There are many complex issues to resolve before wind turbines could begin generating and producing income for Tiverton. And controversy can surround wind energy proposals. Public input will be necessary, and turbine sites carefully chosen. But, if a 2011 opinion poll is any indication, Tiverton is willing to see turbines on its horizon, since 83 percent of the 985 respondents favored them in the industrial park.
It is time to move forward and get a better return on the industrial park. It is time to definitively endorse wind energy as the lead development. This does not preclude other development because the footprint of turbines is small. Indeed, opening the park with a community based wind energy project would undoubtedly receive intense regional media coverage and put Tiverton on the “green industry” map. That kind of publicity is priceless, and just might open the door to a bright future for the long orphaned Tiverton industrial park.

Garry Plunkett is the Tiverton representative to the East Bay Energy Consortium.

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