Contrary to what was alleged in a complaint filed with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC) has pursued a proposed wind power project in a fiscally responsible, open and transparent manner, according to some of the government figures named in the complaint.
In 2009, nine municipalities entered into a “memorandum of agreement” to obtain grant funding to support a study assessing the feasibility of a wind power project. Those nine municipalities were Bristol, Barrington, Little Compton, East Providence, Middletown, Newport, Portsmouth, Tiverton, and Warren.
The agreement called for Bristol Township to obtain grant money for a feasibility study in partnership with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC), the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund (RIREF), and the EBEC. If the feasibility study supported the construction of a wind power turbine facility in Tiverton, the partners would then lobby commercial investors to come into play. But the feasibility study showed that “significant risks” were associated with the proposal. Moreover, a subsequent wind resource test in August 2011 produced “unfavorable results,” according to the complaint.
What happened from this point forward has become a matter of intense dispute between the Consortium and its leading critics. Benjamin Riggs, the retired manufacturing executive in Newport who authored the complaint, insists that EBEC has worked deliberately and methodically to prevent public scrutiny of its work and expenditures.
“In its meeting of December 5, 2011, the EBEC voted to keep the (presumably) unfavorable results of the wind power tests from the public,” the complaint says. “The concealment was reaffirmed at the Bristol Town Council meeting of August 8, 2012. EBEC also made a habit of not giving proper meeting notices and not sharing documents with the public, or even its members.”
Jeanne Napolitano, who chairs the EBEC and also sits on the Newport City Council, takes issue with these allegations. She told the Ocean State Current in an interview that the Consortium’s actions have been open to public scrutiny and debate.
“Our meetings have been open to the public. Mr. Riggs has attended those meetings,” she said. “The money we receive all goes to experts we have looking at this project; none of the board members [on the EBEC] are paid. It’s not accurate to say that we have been concealing our efforts from the public. If we can’t get together in some way to fix this economy, then we are doomed in Rhode Island. Not one dime has gone to us, it has gone to attorneys, engineers, and wind experts.”
Another point of contention concerns the legislation that was advanced earlier this year to turn the EBEC into a “quasi-governmental” entity with the power of “eminent domain,” which would enable it to seize private property for public use. The East Bay Energy Consortium Act will likely be reintroduced next year, without the eminent domain provision, Napolitano said.
“We never wanted eminent domain, and the legislation has been repackaged,” she explained. “On the recommendation of our attorney, we pursued quasi-governmental status because this would allow us to obtain government funding.”
Initially, the group requested the power of eminent domain in order to offer tax-free bonds. Having that ability requires an organization to have one of three powers indicative of a government entity: the power to tax, the power to police, or the power of eminent domain.
Napolitano also said that renewable energy initiatives, like wind power, could save the Rhode Island taxpayers money over long term and also work to the financial benefit of the participating municipalities. She estimates that the current wind power proposal could cost anywhere from $50 to $70 million for the 10 wind turbines that would be erected in Tiverton.
“We didn’t know how complex the wind power project would be going into this,” Napolitano acknowledged. “Our project, the way we are presenting it, is self-sustaining. In other words, if we received energy money for let’s say the whole project, it would only be done if we had an association with a private contractor to provide renewable energy, and it would have to be able to pay for itself, the loan we received, in 20 years. And that’s how we were looking at it. We were going to be non-profit, and the only way there would be a profit is by going to each participant, each city and town, to reduce the cost of their budgets, particularly in the areas of electricity. It is complex; I don’t think we realized when we started this that it would be as big as it was.”
The problem with renewable technology is not just its complexity, but its actual cost, Riggs said in response. He is not convinced the wind power proposal will save money. In fact, he views the wind power proposal as financial liability.
“Renewables cost three times what conventional energy costs,” he said, “but I would agree, under the EBEC scheme, create a profit for the consortium municipal members. I point out in my complaint that this profit is at the considerable excess cost to all of the citizens and businesses of RI, in all the municipalities. It will not save a single Rhode Island taxpayer money.”
Under the section of the complaint entitled “Violation of the Law and Public Policy,” the complaint from Riggs also names Ken Marshall, president of the Bristol Town Council. Riggs claims “Mr. Marshall caused the funds from EBEC to be co-mingled with municipal funds” and lists a number of other allegations.
The Current invited Marshall to comment and present his side of controversy. He emailed in a detailed response, which is as follows:
I have gone out of my and others’ way to provide any and all opportunities to vet the facts and attempt to due the necessary due diligence to meet theirs and the public at large concerns. The original intent of this exercise was and continues to be an exploration of cities and towns working together to benefit from the efficiencies of scale when it comes to any energy efficiency project. The benefits from these efficiencies of scale through economics would in turn potentially have offered an alternative to our current single source electrical supply as well as provide backup energy in times of emergency needs during a natural/national crisis. I personally have witnessed a Country that has been at the mercy of global energy supplies which in turn jeopardizes our Country’s economic health and well-being.
Our future and security as a town, city, state, Country, and World depend on elected leaders being proactive rather than reactive to any situation. After physically watching one town after another attempt and fail with renewable sources, and the facts and benefits surrounding the possibility of doing onshore -vs- the costs and challenges of doing offshore, and being part of and witness to the continual financial cutbacks and deficits that each and every city are facing while all around us energy costs continue to rise further hampering our collective ability to succeed as a State, coupled with continual rising unemployment and the attempts to keep property taxes in check without reducing services, there comes a time when we as elected officials are required to think outside the box and comfort zones and work together towards the Public Good that we were elected to do.
I know firsthand that the Governor is working with Canada and the rest of the New England States to bring in hydro-power electricity that is more financially attractive and renewable along with the possibility of increasing natural gas pipelines to Rhode Island. If he is successful in this endeavor, the entire New England region will be poised to become a more attractive region for economic growth and vitality. I personally look forward with great anticipation for my family and future generations to that hopeful day.
(On Jan. 1, Marshall will be inaugurated as a representative in the General Assembly from District 68.)
Napolitano told the Current that she would supply additional about studies that show renewables could benefit Rhode Island taxpayers and municipalities. Riggs, and other opponents of the EBEC, continue to view renewable efforts has costly and misguided. In October, the Bristol Town Council voted to withdraw from the Consortium.
PHOTO: Jeanne Napolitano testifies in favor of the EBEC before the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, April 5, 2012.
Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?