A quasi-public Massachusetts agency focused on the adoption of technology faces $18,000 in storage fees after failing to find a buyer for two wind turbines it bought for $5.2 million in 2005.
The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) bought the turbines in order to resell them to local wind projects as a way to speed up a process that includes an 18- to 24-month wait time for the delivery of a wind turbine.
But the MTC’s potential buyers – local communities such as Fairhaven, Falmouth or Orleans considering wind-power projects – have faced unanticipated roadblocks that stalled their wind efforts. If the agency fails to find a taker by the end of June, it could face storage fees of $3,000 per month, or another $18,000 by the end of the year.
Industry experts stopped short of faulting the MTC for the investment, suggesting that the collaborative couldn’t have anticipated such roadblocks. What’s more, say others, the MTC was built to take risks – and because wind turbines are a hot commodity for active wind technology states, such as Oregon, it should be able to sell them eventually.
Already, three towns, as well as the Massachusetts Military Reservation at Otis Air Force Base and New Bedford-based Patriot Renewables LLC, have expressed interest in the turbines.
The Renewable Energy Trust, an investment arm of the MTC, made the investment. The trust is funded through a monthly systems benefit surcharge to all electricity users statewide. Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems AS built the 1.65-megawatt turbines, which are being stored in Texas.
The collaborative hopes to sell the turbines by the summer, said Warren Leon, director of the Renewable Energy Trust.
But prospective buyers face challenges. For example, the town of Falmouth is interested in buying one turbine, but not both – and its wind project would require a special act of state legislation.
Wind-power projects in Massachusetts have been beset by a sluggish permitting process and by communities citing everything from environmental concerns to claims that proposed locations are inadequate for harnessing wind, according to industry experts.
To date the Renewable Energy Trust has spent $8 million on wind-related projects and has committed more than $50 million. Forty-six municipalities are exploring community wind projects, said Leon.
But if the MTC fails to sell the turbines by June 20, it is expected to receive a storage bill for $3,000 per month until it does.
Cost-sharing of a new technology is a good approach, but technology often places an unanticipated strain on a community, said Richard O’Bryant, assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University, who specializes in science and technology policy.
The trust’s investors should try to fit the community with the technology rather than force a technology onto a community, he said.
“Some people think technology will heal all wounds, but often when put into practice it presents more challenges than people realize,” O’Bryant said.
Pushing for adoption
The MTC was built to take risks, said Henry Lee, a lecturer at the John F. Kennedy School of Government who served as the state’s first director of the Massachusetts Energy Office under Gov. Francis Sargent.
“If we say to government agencies, ‘Don’t do anything that would possibly fail,’ they would never do anything,” said Lee.
Since the turbines are a valuable asset due to a nationwide shortage, the investment could have been a savvy one, said Mark Sinclair, vice president and COO of Montpelier, Vt.-based Clean Energy Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing clean energy technology use. The MTC is one of its members.
“There are a lot of communities across this country that wish they had this problem,” Sinclair said.
While the MTC could sell the turbines out-of-state for a profit, the charter of the trust is to push renewable energy in Massachusetts. And a primary goal of the collaborative is to assist in meeting the state’s looming renewable energy use deadline.
By 2009, under the state’s renewable portfolio standard law, Massachusetts is mandated to generate 4 percent of total statewide electricity used from new, renewable sources. There is no federal mandate, but 21 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws. As of 2004, Massachusetts generated less than 1 percent from renewable energy, according to Environment Massachusetts, a nonprofit organization focused on renewable energy.
By Catherine Williams
Mass High Tech
23 March 2007
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