PRINCETON – State Department of Conservation and Recreation concerns over the construction schedule for upgrades at the Princeton Municipal Light Department windfarm – plus a better deal on wind turbines – means the project won’t be operational by mid- December as announced earlier this month.
“The project will go forward this year in terms of site preparation, the final pad design, site clearing, and access road work,” said PMLD manager Jonathan Fitch. “When the opportunity to procure two wind turbines came up, I’d hoped to be able to do construction before the season is over. But then I got the letter from DCR saying they didn’t want any construction to take place until after October 15.
“We could start certain items because they recognize we want to expedite the schedule,” Fitch said, “but I can’t do major construction this fall. We won’t have enough time between October 15 and the onset of winter. I don’t want to risk putting in concrete pads in cold weather for something as important as the turbine foundation.”
Fitch still is working out the final terms and conditions with Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for the purchase of the turbines. “Then they called and asked if we could wait until spring for the turbines,” he said. MTC had an August 10 deadline to make a decision about two wind turbines located in Texas. The manufacturer called MTC to say it had another user for the turbines Princeton wanted. The manufacturer will replace those turbines with two new ones in June, and MTC wouldn’t have to pay for storage fees.
“I told them I’d be willing to wait and then talked to Brad Hubbard, chairman of the board of light commissioners,” Fitch said. “I told him we needed more time for an agreement with MTC. This is better for us and allows me more flexibility in the construction schedule.”
The GEO technical work will go out to bid and Fitch anticipates the work will be done in September. Work on the access road won’t take place until after the leaf-looking season, he added.
DCR asked Fitch for a revised construction schedule and a statement that no construction will take place during the foliage season’s first two weeks of October. Fitch said DCR wants Princeton to provide law enforcement or other appropriately trained personnel to monitor safety along Stage Coach Trail during construction. PMLD also must identify where and how construction equipment and vehicles will be stored and staged; a methodology for protection against fuel spills and other soil contamination; copies of insurance policies held by PMLD contractors; and submission of a detailed road design and specifications for DCR review and approval.
As a way to reasonably accommodate PMLD’s request to commence construction activities, DCR has authorized limited activities prior to the submission of the revised construction schedules as long as PMLD provides details for ensuring public safety and access during tree clearing and geotechnical work.
Fitch discussed the concerns with state reservation supervisor Dwayne Ericson, and agreed that a safety monitor would be stationed along the trail to direct construction traffic. “The construction traffic would be stopped and hikers given first priority,” said Fitch. Signage will suggest alternate routes to the summit.
Fitch said another item that went into the decision to wait for next June to install the turbines is a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding the $470,000 USDA grant. That MOU is between PMLD, USDA, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Community Energy Inc. (Mass Wind).
“When we agreed to curtail windmill operations in the fall during bald eagle migration, it wasn’t defined what criteria would be used to determine that,” said Fitch. “We were looking for help from Mass Audubon and the Eastern Mass Hawk Watch organization. Mass Audubon and the Hawk Watch people did provide us with some helpful information that has been crafted into the MOU. That document has been sent to USDA and Fish and Wildlife for review.”
He said the best part of the decision is giving them time to complete tasks such as preparing documents for bid packages and construction. “Ultimately it will be a better project,” he said.
Fitch said the foundation and site work is estimated at $1 million. The crane is about $300,000 to $500,000 and the turbines approximately $5.3 million – about $3 million more than it was in 2002 when the project first started, said Fitch.
The turbine bid will be awarded August 18, he said.
Energy costs spike in August
Fitch is watching the price of electricity by the hour.
“On August 2, the price went from $70 a megawatt hour to $1,000 a megawatt hour because of the heat wave and because a generator in New England went off line,” he said. “We need to investigate the cause of the price spike – solely related to the weather or price gouging?”
The increase will have to be passed on to customers, he said. If the price comes down for the rest of August and is averaged out for the month, the increase won’t have a great impact, he said. The cost of electricity was 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour in July, but the August spike could add four cents. “Prices are stabilizing now, which could mean the August bill will only be somewhat higher,” he added.
By Phyllis Booth
17 August 2006
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