CHATHAM – With the expanded wastewater treatment plant expected to gobble up as much as 1,870 megawatt hours of electricity each year, selectmen are looking for ways to cut the hefty operating costs for the facility. Some are hoping that the answer is blowing in the wind.
On Tuesday, the board gave the go-ahead for submission of an application for a preliminary assessment of whether a wind turbine might be erected on the site to offset some of the electricity use.
Health and Environment Director Dr. Robert Duncanson told selectmen the planned new wastewater treatment facility will have significant energy needs, despite the fact that it has been designed to use gravity flow instead of pumps whenever possible. Officials made tentative steps several years ago to explore the possibility of using a wind turbine to generate electricity at the site, but the effort didn’t move forward.
The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) operates a community wind collaborative program, which will provide a preliminary assessment of the site at no cost to the town. The goal of that assessment is to find obvious impediments to a turbine project, Duncanson said.
“Is there anything that’s so serious, that there’s just no way that it would work?” he said. If the preliminary assessment shows that the site has potential, the MTC could then provide a more detailed feasibility study. The only cost to the town from this phase would be if a meteorological test tower needs to be erected, which would mean the $20,000 to $25,000 cost of the tower and the cost of clearing the site ahead of schedule. Otherwise, the feasibility study is provided free of charge to the town, Duncanson said. It would address some of the key hurdles that the turbine project might face, including regulatory concerns related to the Chatham Municipal Airport.
“We’ve gotten a sign-off from the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission,” he said, but comments have not been solicited from the Federal Aviation Administration, “which has a whole different set of criteria,” Duncanson said. The site is 6,150 feet west of the airport runway, and while state officials indicated a turbine would likely be allowed on the site, they strongly suggested that it be outfitted with obstruction lights.
The site under consideration is a flat, wooded area between the wastewater treatment plant and Middle Road, northwest of the capped landfill. Though currently covered in scrub oak forest, parts of the area are already slated to be cleared to allow the expansion of the plant’s infiltration beds. The location is less than 500 feet from the nearest residence, a home off Middle Road. Unlike earlier plans for a turbine taller than 300 feet, this plan would likely call for one between 250 and 300 feet in height, Water and Sewer Department Director William Redfield said.
Selectman Debbie Connors, who did not support the turbine proposal when it was presented to the board in 2004, said she now thinks the idea deserves a closer look. She said she was also interested to learn that the water commissioners in Orleans had pursued a study but ultimately abandoned plans to erect two 400-foot turbines on water department land off Route 28.
Town Manager William Hinchey said Chatham’s situation is different from Orleans, in that Chatham plans to use most or all of the power it generates at the wastewater treatment plant, on site. The Orleans plan was to use a small amount of power to run town wells, and then sell the surplus electricity to the power grid. When turbine owners sell power back, the utility pays only a fraction of what it would charge for the same electricity. “When you displace your own need, you get 100 percent off,” Hinchey said. Thus, though turbines might not have been economically feasible in Orleans, they might be in Chatham, he said.
Another difference in this proposal is that Orleans planned to build its turbine in the middle of its watershed, Duncanson said.
“We’re proposing it right in the middle of the area that we’re going to clear anyway,” he said.
Selectmen voted 4-0, with Sean Summers not present, to authorize the chairman to sign the application form for the MTC assessment. The MTC is funded from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, which if funded through a surcharge on consumers’ electricity bills.
Hinchey said compared with the capital costs associated with the town’s wastewater plan, the savings from a wind turbine might appear small, but it could amount to millions of dollars over the life span of the turbine.
“It’s an interesting economic opportunity,” he said.
by Alan Pollock
20 September 2007
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