Portsmouth considers partnership to fix turbine

The town's wind turbine has been idle since June 2012 due to a faulty gear box. The town's wind turbine has been idle since June 2012 due to a faulty gear box.

The town's wind turbine has been idle since June 2012 due to a faulty gear box.

The town’s wind turbine has been idle since June 2012 due to a faulty gear box.

PORTSMOUTH — What should the town do with its wind turbine? The answer may be found in a future partnership that could get those blades moving again.

In 2007 voters approved a $3 million bond issue for the turbine, which sits behind the tennis courts at the high school. Idle since June 2012 because of a broken gear box, it came up before the Town Council Monday night for the first time since last October.

Back then, said Town Planner Gary Crosby, the council requested that negotiations for a solution were continued with two bidders. “Ultimately, we couldn’t come together for an agreement,” Mr. Crosby said, noting there was a problem with the request for proposal (RFP), a document that elicits bids from potential companies the town would hire. The town went back out to bid in early December.

“We opened the bids and we had four respondents,” said Mr. Crosby. Although he couldn’t speak in detail about the bids — the council would go into executive session later on for that — he did speak in general terms about the different options available to the town.

One would be to have the town pay for the repairs to the gearbox and resume operation and ownership of the turbine, which would cost anywhere from $580,000 to $730,000. The town would continue to sell power to National Grid.

Also under this scenario, the town would enter into an operations and maintenance contract with a third-party service provider that would handle minor repairs and monitor the turbine. In addition, an insurance policy paid for by the town would cover any future problems with the turbine, he said.

“This is something we didn’t have in the past,” Mr. Crosby said.

Another option would be for a developer to take down and replace the turbine at no charge to the town, then lease the property from the town to cover the debt on the original turbine — about $2.3 million. This contractor would also enter into an agreement to sell power to National Grid. This option ensures that “someone else” would pay the town’s debts, said Mr. Crosby.

Yet a third option the town could consider would be to remove the turbine and sell it for scrap metal. “The downside to that is that the town pays off the debt without a matching set of revenue,” Mr. Crosby said.

The council took no action and discussed the options further in executive session later that night.

Elmhurst property

In other business, the council also accepted a revised draft mission statement from the Elmhurst Planning Committee, chaired by Richard Wimpress.

Mr. Seveney said the council requested the statement because it wanted to make sure the committee would continue to advise the council in the development of a master plan for the property that includes Elmhurst School, which closed at the end of the 2010 academic year.

The council has been in discussions with the Aquidneck Island Land Trust (ALT), which has offered to pay the town $1 million for the removal of the Elmhurst School building in exchange for the town granting the Trust conservation easements on both the Glen Farm fields and the former school property.

ALT wants to conserve and enhance the Glen as a public waterfront park open to the public. If the council approves ALT’s proposal, the matter would still have to go before Portsmouth voters. Mr. Faucher said that under the law, the earliest that a special election could be held is mid-May.

Snow budget in red

Town Administrator John Klimm reported that the town is “presently $40,000 over the budgeted amount” for snow removal.

The major winter storm that hit the area recently is mostly to blame, said Mr. Klimm, who described the snow removal budget as “probably the most volatile issue in any line item budget.”

Mr. Klimm said he and Mr. Faucher will make recommendations to address the issue  at the next council meeting.

Sticker fee reduced

The council also voted unanimously to grant students at the Naval War College a reduction in the price of a transfer station sticker, from $130 to $65. Council member Keith Hamilton proposed the idea, saying it’s unfair that these students must pay for two stickers at about $130 each because they arrive in August and leave in June. (The town-issued stickers are good for one calendar year.)

David Faucher, the town’s finance director, said about 50 students at the college live in Portsmouth, so the town would lose about $6,500 in revenues annually with a fee reduction. That would require a $2 increase in the sticker fee to make up for the loss, said Mr. Faucher.

Town Council President James Seveney said he didn’t want to bump up the fee to cover the shortfall, however. He challenged the finance director to “figure it out.”

Under the new rule, Naval War College students will purchase a 2013 sticker for $65 in July or August, after presenting their orders to the town. Then they would need to buy another $65 ticket in January 2014 after presenting orders.

Town Council member David Gleason said other residents — such as those who go to Florida three months out of the year — may also want a similar discount. Mr. Seveney, however, said such matters should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Municipal court

A municipal court for Portsmouth will have to wait for now.

Portsmouth had hoped to partner with Middletown on a new municipal court, but Mr. Klimm said officials from the neighboring town recently notified him that they won’t be able to act as quickly as they had hoped. Portsmouth is now exploring whether to partner with another town on a court or possibly “doing it ourself,” Mr. Klimm said.

Municipal courts, such as one operated by The Town of Bristol, typically hear matters relating to traffic, zoning, harbor patrol, disorderly conduct and animal code violations.

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