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Renewed Interest

We conclude our two-part series this week with a closer look at the North Kingstown man who founded Wind Energy Development in 2009. Mark DePasquale is putting up 10 turbines in western Coventry. For those who ask about the effects of living near a turbine, Depasquale invites them to his own house - where a 414-footer resides in his yard.

 

Click here to watch part-one of this series.

 

SCRIPT:

It has a been a fixture on the Portsmouth horizon since 2009. At 360-feet tall, with blades that weigh 9 tons each, this wind turbine was supposed to be the town’s answer to rising electricity costs.

All of that changed four years ago.

DePasquale: ``Because of what happened in Portsmouth I had to make the state of Rhode Island very comfortable.’’

Mark DePasquale says Portsmouth showed the rest of the state how not to do a wind energy project. The town bought into faulty technology, which broke in 2012, leaving taxpayers with nearly one and a half million dollars still left to pay on equipment that was producing no revenue. The icing on the cake: the company that manufactured it went out of business.

DePasquale: ``It’s our poster child, it just sits there broken. And I drive by and it bothers me, inside my heart, it bothers me.’’

Enter DePasquale, who founded Wind Energy Development in 2009 and last week presided over the dismantling of turbine.

DePasquale is so confident in wind energy he is paying off the town’s debt and putting up another turbine - on the same site, but with a new foundation and new technology. He’ll own it and sell electricity to the town. He expects it to come on line by late June.

DePasquale is also putting up 10 turbines in western Coventry - three will be owned by the Town of West Warwick, which is paying $6 million per turbine, with the expectation of saving $40 million in power over 25 years.

Depasquale says there are no government subsidies or tax breaks for the West Warwick project - just the assurance that the town’s electricity rates will be stable for the next two plus decades because it will be producing its own power.

DePasquale: ``I think you’re going to see a lot of communities growing for this. I really think once the project’s up it’s going to be a model project’

It wasn’t that way five years ago when residents of North Kingstown packed the High School auditorium to oppose one of DePasquale’s proposed projects on the Exeter line. It didn’t matter that he’d already put up a turbine in his own back yard, literally. Many said it would ruin their property values and the quality of life in town.

DePasquale: ``I never expected such a battle over a wind turbine. I put it in my front yard because I wanted to learn more about it. So I said what better place than to live right under it.’’

Now DePasquale uses it to sell skeptics who worry about noise and flicker.

DePasquale: ``So when we have a meeting I invite people, come to my house. Would you live under it? I said: come to my house. There’s always somebody that’s not sure and they’ll come down and they’re hear it and listen to it and I’ll show them inside. It changes a lot once you see it and touch it you get a different perspective of the turbine.’’

DePasquale has done several other things to answer his critics. Every time the company gets an inquiry, Project Develop Hannah Morini uses a sophisticated computer program to determine whether a given site would be a good fit for a turbine.

DePasquale: ``We basically if off a GIS mapping and Google Earth and we put our turbine there. And once we set our turbine there, there’s a whole bunch of settings that they set in and instantly the computer will spit out what the effects are going to be. They’ll call me and I‘ll call up Google Earth and I’ll look at it, and I’ll look at the little symbol and I’ll see North. I tell people before we hang up the phone: It’s not going to work. Or: it looks interesting let me get back to you.’’

He is also relying on experts from the turbine manufacturer Vensys for the Coventry project.

DePasquale: ``We brought over people from Germany, there was about 8 or 10 of them, they specialize in building foundations. So that company flew in and we offset them with HB Welding - which is a union company in Rhode Island and they’ve put some labor on with them to try to educate people in Rhode Island at the same time the manufacturer knows the foundation is going in perfectly.’’

DePasquale said the highly-publicized failure in Portsmouth convinced him that giving long-term assurances on maintenance would be critical in selling turbine projects. So he turned again to Vensys.

DePasquale: ``We spent a week negotiating and operating a maintenance agreement; spent probably the most of our time discussing what they were going to be responsible, made sure there was nothing left out on it and my platform basically was: We have a broken turbine in the state of Rhode Island, we can’t afford another one. You need to stand up, come to Rhode Island, set up office here and you need to operate and manage and run this facility.’’

The Coventry turbines will be the same as the three the Narragansett Bay Commission put up several years ago on the Providence waterfront. DePasquale says the Coventry project has also allowed several famers to keep their property. The company is paying $50,000 a year for 25 years to lease the land from property owners for each turbine.

DePasquale: ``A lot of farmers want to preserve their land and it’s very very difficult to pay taxes and be in a foresting program and to keep revenue, so they’re really struggling. So we went out to the , where we figured this is a good fit. There’s no houses really around us, there are houses in the area, but large distances away from the turbines - there’s nothing to the north of it. The elevation in Coventry is about 550 feet above sea level. Learning about the way power flows into our Grid in Rhode Island I think has been the hardest learning curve, for the project. Learning about the technology, I climb my turbine a minimum of once a month. I inspect it ourself. We have an operating and maintenance company Goldwyn that actually manages and runs the turbine; so if there’s an issue, they’re monitoring it. I immediately get an email, and a crew comes down and does the repair.’’

Hummel: ``Do you ever wake up at night sometimes and think: I hope this works?’’

DePasquale: ``No, what I wake up and hope is that our project’s going to be up and running early summer. I hope that other people in the state could really understand how important it is. That there is no impact to these communities and how it could help secure energy and preserve open space and protect farmers. I have no worries at all that the project is going to run.’’

The Coventry project has been delayed because of disputes the company has had with National Grid. DePasquale has also spent $10 million to upgrade lines that run from the turbine site to a substation at Johnston’s Pond 10 miles away, because he says the grid’s equipment is antiquated.

DePasquale: ``I was asked by the Grid why did I spend $10 million to hook up 10 turbines and they were very surprised that I’ve moved forward with the project. And there was a lot of reasons why I moved forward with it. It was to prove to everybody else in the state when the project’s up and running, that it’s successful. If the cost of connecting the 10 turbines would have swayed any other developer, would have stopped the project. I built it, for the point to build it, to run it, to operate it, to prove to the rest of the state this is a good viable source of energy.’’

He predicts that once the Coventry turbines come online - and Portsmouth is up in a very visible location - there will be a surge of interest in other parts of the state.

DePasquale: ``I think you’re going to see a big change in the next three to five years, in Rhode Island of how many towns are generating their own power with wind.

In Portsmouth, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.