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State: Big role for windmills

The state is looking to spend tens of millions of dollars to build giant wind turbines on the grounds of prisons, mental hospitals, community colleges and other public agencies as a way to save money and promote clean energy.

Officials have already made site visits to determine the feasibility of turbines generating electricity at state facilities that consume a lot of energy, said John Chapman, assistant secretary of economic development within the Romney administration.

More studies have to be conducted – and it could take two to four years before 10 or more turbines are built at a cost of about $2 million each.

But state officials are already moving ahead with tentative plans to conduct wind tests at various sites. Where turbines might be built was not disclosed yesterday.

Officials would only say they’ve looked at two correctional facilities, as well as an unspecified number of state mental-health hospital campuses, community colleges and state water-pumping stations.

The administration is basing its “economic model” on an electricity-generating turbine installed earlier this year on the grounds of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne. Officials there hope to save about $200,000 a year in electric bills thanks to the new windmill.

“We think it’s a model than can work,” said Josh Bagnato, director of renewable energy for the state’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, referring to agencies generating the energy they actually consume.

“For a state agency that consumes a lot of energy, it can be significant savings.”

Seth Kaplan, an attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, said it’s “ironic” that Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration is now pushing for windmills, after opposing the massive Cape Wind project on Nantucket Sound.

“But it’s a good idea,” he said of putting turbines on state properties where electricity is consumed in large quantities.

The so-called “distributed energy” turbines – which provide power directly to users – won’t meet all the needs of some agencies. But it will help, said Bagnato.

By Jay Fitzgerald/ Exclusive
Boston Herald General Economics Reporter