We have to admire Rep. Timothy Bowles persistence. During his runs for first selectman of Preston in the past two local elections, both of which he lost by narrow margins to incumbent Republican First Selectman Robert Congdon, the Democrat contended that Preston should seek to utilize the former Norwich Hospital property for renewable energy research and development.
When in 2012 Rep. Bowles - who did by the way win a seat as selectman and still retains it - undertook his successful run to become a state representative, he again made the idea of a clean energy center a major focus of his campaign.
He has now used his platform as a state representative to form the Southeastern Connecticut Clean Energy Task Force to examine the possibility that the growing field of wind and solar could provide a boost to the local economy. Possibilities run the gamut from vocational training, to research facilities, to development of wind and solar farms. While the task force can pursue such development anywhere in our region, the focus is on the former hospital campus.
This is no starry-eyed 12-member task force. It includes members who will demand some genuine evidence of viability before they sign off on any recommendations for pursuing such endeavors. The members include Norwich Utilities General Manager John Bilda. With its natural gas vehicles and distribution facilities, Norwich Utilities has been a leader in developing cleaner energy alternatives. Also participating is James Butler, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, known to bring a healthy dose of skepticism to all development discussions. The inclusion of Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent is vitally important. And we were glad to see Rep. Bowles reach across the aisles to include state Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, who owns a solar energy business.
While there is certainly state and federal aid available to encourage clean energy research and development, ultimately it will take some private investor interest to make Rep. Bowles' dream a reality. We have seen too many task forces and reports lead to nothing to get excited at this stage. But Rep. Bowles has shown follow through (not all elected leaders do) and we await the work of the task force with interest.