“It just doesn’t smell right.”
Barrington Town Council Vice President Jeff Brenner used those five words to sum up his opposition to the revised legislation that would turn the nine-community East Bay Energy Consortium into a subsidiary of the RI Economic Development Corporation.
Brenner was joined by three other town councilors Monday night in delivering that message of opposition to the bill to Barrington’s three state legislators. Sen. David Bates, Rep. Jan Malik and Rep. Joy Hearn met with the town councilors in a special meeting before the regular monthly meeting.
“It’s the legislation, not the concept of cooperating with other communities to develop renewable energy,” Brenner said.
Kate Weymouth, who cast the only vote in support of the legislation, still found fault with the process.
“Why are you dealing with this at the last minute again?” Weymouth said of the bill being dealt with in the final weeks of the legislative session. “This is our future at stake here.”
Town Council President June Speakman agreed: “This is a terrible position to be put in.”
Eric Busch of Rustpoint Advisory, the project manager for the EBEC, told the councilors that “the intent has not changed. It is still our intent to be in a position to generate power at a competitive rate.”
Generating power with wind turbines is a good concept, said Brenner.
“But why is the organization of local towns working together taking on the structure of a state agency?” he said.
“This has been a homegrown, grassroots movement that has done a tremendous amount of work,” she said. “This is a vibrant, local group that seems to be transforming into something else."
Nine communities have members on the board of EBEC, which ranges up and down the East Bay of Rhode Island from East Providence to Little Compton. Barrington Town Planner Phil Hervey is an officer.
Town Councilor Bill DeWitt said he believes “It’s a bit of a reach for government to do this properly. I think we can facilitate this by working with a private organization to create energy.”
Speakman said the energy consortium may have taken on a project that may be too big for the nine communities to handle. Thus, EBEC sees itself transforming into an organization that may be undermining the whole purpose of the nine communities collaborating together.
Town Councilor Cynthia Coyne said she simply needs more information on the whole process and what’s going on.
“There have been so many changes to the legislation,” Coyne said, which reflects opposition to EBEC being turned into a quasi-public agency. “I need additional information. It’s still a work in progress.”
Weymouth said she ultimately voted to support the legislation because a vote against it “may send the wrong message. I think we may be throwing the baby out with the bath water.”