December 29, 2006

Somerset may find some answers blowing in the wind

Officials are moving ahead with plans to study the feasibility of erecting at least one wind turbine to try to cut energy costs at town-owned facilities.

The move is being spearheaded by Selectman William P. Meehan and resident Bruce Aldrich, both of whom were part of a delegation to tour the site of the Portsmouth Abbey turbine in May.

The current plan calls for seeking a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative that would pay for wind monitors to see whether, over the course of a year, the average wind speed is strong enough to make the project feasible. The deadline for the application is Feb. 28.

As part of the deal, the town would have to kick in $5,000, said Robert A. Shatten of Boreal Renewal Energy Development, which has offered advice about project to the town.

“It’s a pretty extensive study – that looks at wind speed, noise, economics, and determines if it’s feasible depending on the payback a community desires,” Shatten said.

A turbine in the southern part of town would supply energy to the sewage-treatment plant. If the wind is strong enough farther inland, wind energy could help cover the costs of the water-treatment facility or both South Elementary School and Somerset Middle School.

The turbines are most economical when they are used to directly power town facilities. It eliminates the need to buy electricity at retail prices. Any excess power can be sold to National Grid, though it must be sold for the wholesale price.

The key location for taking measures will be the 130-foot-high water tower at the South Field Complex, which may be the highest point in town. The Water Department has already given permission to place the anemometer there.

“You get the wind data at the highest point in town, because that’s where your best case is,” Shatten said. “Then you go where your highest load is, which is your water-treatment plant.”

But he noted that even if the winds are strong enough and all the design work is done, “there’s up to a two-year wait to get the turbines.”

The reason for the wait is that in the Midwest, “they’re buying hundreds for wind farms, so it’s hard to get” just one or two, he said.

By C. Eugene Emery Jr.

Journal Staff Writer

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