That chilly arctic wind that has people cringing and shivering this week could be warming homes and delivering hot water in Western Massachusetts in future years, with the help of Gov. Deval L. Patrick, who approved local tax breaks for what would be the state’s largest wind project.
The legislation will allow the small towns of Florida and Monroe to exempt the project developer, PPM Energy, from local property taxes on the 1,500 acres that will be used for 20 large wind turbines planned along the ridge lines of Bakke Mountain and Crum Hill near the Vermont border.
The bill will allow the towns to negotiate payments in lieu of taxes with the developer.
The project, in the planning stages for several years, initially was expected to be built in 2004, but has been delayed by complicated environmental and financing issues.
Last year the project was sold by the original developer to PPM Energy, which is a well-established wind farm operator with many larger projects in other parts of the country.
It would generate enough electricity for almost 10,000 homes, but would be very visible with 340-foot-high turbines perched on elevated sections of the hillsides and rising far above the tree lines.
The legislation for the local property tax exemption was approved by the House and Senate at the end of last year, but did not get to the Gov. Mitt Romney’s desk in time for a standard review by the governor’s office before his term ended Jan. 2. That left the legislation to lapse unsigned by Mr. Romney into a pocket veto, meaning it would have to be re-filed and reconsidered by the Legislature.
Both chambers however made quick work of the bill during its initial informal sessions last month, including it in a group of other minor bills that were among the first to make it to Mr. Patrick’s desk.
Mr. Patrick, who promised to try to make Massachusetts a leader in alternative energy technology during his campaign and was the first candidate for governor to back the controversial Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, signed the bill for the Berkshire project with little ceremony and no public announcement.
While both host communities endorsed the Hoosac Wind farm, it has struggled getting to the construction phase, with financing plans and environmental hurdles. Besides the impact on the treasured Berkshire scenery, the project has raised concerns among some environmental groups over the construction of four miles of roads needed to access the facilities.
Renewable energy surcharges on most electric bills in the state that go into the state’s Renewable Energy Trust are helping finance the project.
The Trust has awarded the project $17,075,000 in guarantees for renewable energy certificates the facility will generate, which ensure a floor price and a market for those certificates if the developer is unable to sell them on the open market. That will help ensure the project is able to secure financing.
Warren Leon, director of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, said the local tax measure will help advance the project, which is ready for construction once a pending legal challenge to state permits for the wind farm is resolved. Initially the project was planned for construction in 2004, but the permitting issues have held up the schedule. Once approved, construction is expected to take six months.
Mr. Leon said while some opposition to the project is rooted in concerns about the general idea of installing large wind turbines along the elevated sections of the Berkshires, some people, he said, “don’t believe building wind turbines in the Berkshires is a good idea.”
“One of the important things about getting a project like this up sooner than later is giving people an opportunity to see what a significant wind project looks like, so they can make informed decisions in the future,” he said. “After a couple of projects like this go up, it is going to make a difference in peoples attitudes. People, I think, when they see them they will think this is a good idea,” Mr. Leon said.
Quick action on the bill by the Legislature and Mr. Patrick, he said, sends a message to alternative energy developers that the state is welcoming their business. “It’s a good sign that the governor is going to act promptly and strongly to support renewable energy,” Mr. Leon said.
By John J. Monahan
Telegram & Gazette Staff
10 February 2007