The wind will keep howling over the treetops in the Orleans watershed but it won’t be spinning any wind turbines.
On Wednesday afternoon the water commissioners voted 3-1 against recommending that the RFP (request for proposals) for the project be issued Monday, effectively killing the project, and they informed the board of selectmen of their decision at a joint meeting that night at Orleans Town Hall.
“I was shocked by the water commissioner’s vote today and frankly the lack of ability they displayed to even come up with a means to address any remaining concerns,” said the dissenting commissioner, Kevin Galligan. “The opportunity has passed. The door is closed and I believe this opportunity will never be presented to the town again.”
The two towers would have generated 1.65 megawatts each and stood 397 feet high to the tips of the wings. The project was first hatched in 2003 when a test tower was erected. The energy would have powered the town’s water treatment plant with the excess sold into a regional power grid.
“(This decision) allows the water commission to return to its original purpose to make sure the town is amply supplied with water,” said vice chairman Ann Hodgkinson. “It was not an easy decision. The town meeting on several occasions voted their approval of the project. Personally, I believe the town meeting was not a mandate.”
“My (‘no’) vote was passed on the financial aspects of the project,” she explained. “Much has been said on the revenue the town will get from the project but nothing has been said about the costs.”
She had gone over the proposal and procedures and pulled out 168 items that would cost the town money, and there may be more.
“Cumulatively, they add up to a substantial sum and that was the driving factor in my vote,” she said.
Commission chairman Bob Rich also voted “no” as did Victor Noerdlinger.
“My comparison of likely risks and potential benefits indicated the risks were substantial and the benefits may be elusive,” Rich said.
Three of the prime risks, according to Rich, were the question of whether the wind towers could even be transported to the sites, a possible change in the state building code that would disqualify the towers and the possibility costs would exceed revenues.
“Do the environmental benefits of gaining a slight amount of energy justify the costs of clearing acres of forest wisely set aside by the town for the supply of drinking water?” he wondered.
Galligan countered that the project would have provided the town $40,000 to $60,000 a year and the town meeting had already authorized the expenditure of $100,000, which was “more than sufficient” to cover all 168 plus items.
“The wind energy project would bring in excess of $2.5 million of revenue to the town over its 20-year life,” Galligan said. “There are 258 volunteer hours invested in this project. The reasons you heard from the opponents are without material merit.”
He pointed out that the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative has already spent $5 million of ratepayer funds for two Vesta 1.65 MW turbines and $700,000 on wind evaluation, bird studies, plans, designs, feasibility studies, lease drafting etc.
The potential building code change would require the towers to withstand a 120 mph wind. The turbines were ordered in December 2005 for delivery last October.
Currently, they’re in Houston and the towers in Saskatoon Saskatchewan.
“We could not hold the turbines forever,” said Deidre Matthews, director of clean energy for MTC. “The MTC’s biggest concern is we want to see these two turbines spinning somewhere in Massachusetts. And we want the town where they’re spinning to be happy about that.”
She was at the meeting as well and spoke to Galligan in the hall afterward.
“We’ll work together again,” she promised.
Selectman Mark Caron, liaison to the water board, noted that he had favored the project but that “huge issues” surrounding finances and management remained unresolved.
“The MTC was very disappointing to me,” he said. “I hope what they learned was that municipalities function differently from the private sector.”
Selectmen declined to take comments from the public and urged people to bring their reaction to next week’s meeting. They voted 4-0 to accept the water commission’s recommendation.
“It’s been a very long process (four years) and a frustrating one,” Hodgkinson said. “It was also the MTC’s first venture into a project of this type.”
“We’re disappointed, of course,” sighed Matthews. “Orleans has been a valued partner. We’ve worked with them a long time. We don’t wish to pressure them. That’s fully the town’s decision.”
By Rich Eldred
The Cape Codder
13 September 2007
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