For the past six years, Princeton Municipal Light Department officials have been working on a plan to upgrade the department’s 16-acre wind farm off Westminster Road.
On August 24 that plan becomes official as Lumus Construction, Inc. of Woburn is holding a ground-breaking ceremony at 12 p.m. to celebrate the start of construction for what will be the largest wind farm in Massachusetts to date. The event will be held rain or shine.
Two 1,500-kilowatt Fuhrlander wind turbines will be constructed providing three megawatts of efficient renewable energy.
Governor Deval Patrick, Lt. Governor Timothy Murray, state Rep. Lewis Evangelidis, Sen. Harriette Chandler, selectmen and others have been invited to participate in the ceremony. PMLD General Manager Jonathan Fitch will speak about the history of Princeton’s windmills and the project that is underway.
PMLD has operated the wind farm since 1984, when residents voted in favor of purchasing and developing the site as an alternative to buying power from the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. Eight 100-foot, 40-kilowatt windmills were erected, but never produced the projected 10 percent of the town’s energy needs, in part because the recommended size and quantity of units weren’t installed due to the high cost. The wind resource at the lower height and the mature 50-foot tree canopy surrounding the site were also factors contributing to the lower than expected production, according to Fitch. As the windmills aged and suffered lightning strikes, Fitch and PMLD commissioners determined the equipment was at the end of its useful life and the cost to maintain and repair the windmills far outweighed the small amount of electricity they produced.
In December 1999, PMLD started the public process to look at various options regarding the future of the wind farm. Studies were done and citizens were surveyed, with 78 percent of respondents supporting the idea of larger more efficient wind turbines. A special town election in 2003 showed that 74 percent of those voting favored the project.
Since then, PMLD has pursued the environmental and permitting process, held many public meetings and hearings, been to the zoning board, planning board, conservation commission and state agencies, dealt with four lawsuits filed by opponents and is now awaiting a decision from the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy as to whether the department is exempt from local bylaws on the project.
The decision is not necessary for construction to begin.
Following a lengthy process, PMLD swapped property with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which will allow them to use Stage Coach Trail to access the wind site. Lumus Construction and Facilities Services was awarded the contract in the amount of $6,424,500 to develop the wind farm site, including upgrade of the access road, foundation design and construction, installation of transformers and electrical equipment, and installation of two 230-foot wind towers with two 1,500- 1,650 kilowatt wind turbines.
Construction will take 18 months from the start of site work to the commissioning of the turbines. In the Northeast, Lumus is a leader in the construction of renewable energy projects such as wind, solar, fuel cells, geothermal, and energy efficient projects.
“We are excited to be at the ground level of this important emerging industry in Massachusetts,” said Sumul Shah, president of Lumus Construction, in a press release. “The success of this project will encourage others throughout the region to move forward with their projects.”
Lumus hired Methuen Construction to do the civil construction work. The site work and other preparations are the most time-consuming aspects of the project. The turbines come assembled so their installation is expected to take only about three to four weeks.
PMLD’s goal is to have the new wind turbines operational by the fall of 2008.
“This project reaffirms our commitment to renewable energy, reduces our dependency on fossil fuel energy, and reduces our town’s energy costs while balancing the environmental and community impact,” said Fitch.
“The new wind turbines will generate renewable and cost effective electricity to meet 40 percent of the town’s energy requirements,” he continued. “This is the equivalent energy consumption of approximately 800 homes in Princeton.”
Site preparation is going well, Fitch told the PMLD commissioners at their August 15 meeting. The access road is mostly complete; and for the past few weeks, workers have been blasting the area where turbine pads will be constructed. There has been less blasting than expected, he added.
The material created by blasting is being used to fill other areas where needed. Blasting has been monitored on a seismic graph at state Department of Conservation and Recreation property and at the Harrington Farm, which is 2,400 feet away, said Fitch. A fire department official is on site whenever blasting is done.
“I go up there every day, and on weekends I go up on a bike to check the site,” said Fitch. “I ran into one couple who was all upset because they thought the work was being done to put in a housing development. Another hiker couldn’t understand the need for the amount of construction going on for just two turbines. But when I explained what the turbines were and their size, they understood.
“DCR hasn’t received any complaints about the work, and the contractor has been given instructions that hikers have the right of way,” he noted.
Commissioners voted unanimously that PMLD has created the Municipal Light Department Wind Energy Cooperative, which will take 100 percent of the energy output from the Princeton wind facilities, to be owned and operated by the Cooperative.
“Whatever is produced from the wind farm, all the assets and credits all belong to PMLD,” said Fitch. “Princeton’s general manager and the light board chairman are the majority shareholders of the Cooperative and there is one member from MMWEC [Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Commission].
“We own the project and are responsible for it and all the benefits remain in Princeton. Nothing is shared with anyone else.”
Fitch and commission chairman Brad Hubbard were slated to meet with MMWEC officials and attorneys last week to conduct its first Wind Energy Cooperative meeting.
All American Investment Group will be handling the funds, said Fitch. The department had initially partnered with Community Energy, which was later bought out.
All American did the funding for the Princeton’s new wireless system and the department’s truck leasing. A $1.3 million down payment will be required as part of the financing.
By Phyllis Booth
23 August 2007
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