Supporters of developing renewable wind energy in Orleans found a glimmer of hope that a project to build two turbines in the watershed could be salvaged after the board of selectmen voted 3-2 Wednesday to request a joint meeting with all of the stakeholders to try and resolve lingering issues about the project.
On Sept. 12, the water commissioners voted 3-1 against recommending a request for proposal that would have gone out Monday seeking a developer for erecting and maintaining the wind turbines that would generate power for the town’s water treatment facility. The board of selectmen voted unanimously to support the water commissioners’ recommendation, effectively ending the project.
However, more than 30 people gathered at the selectmen’s meeting Wednesday to voice their concerns over the water commissioners’ decision. Included in the audience were members of the newly formed Committee to Save Orleans Wind that is asking the town not to abandon the wind energy project.
“We cannot afford to let this project slip away,” said Liz Argo, Orleans resident and member of the committee.
Argo said the water commissioners needed to clarify their reasons for voting against the project.
Carl Freeman, another member of the committee, said he was concerned about the apparent lack of a process by which a decision by the water commissioners could be appealed.
Orleans resident Vincent Ollivier said there is a public perception that the water commissioners “dodged a bullet” by voting against the proposal.
“Energy projects are complicated,” said Ollivier. “It takes leadership, and leadership is the quotient missing in this equation.”
He added the wind energy project pales in comparison to the challenge the town would face as it deals with wastewater issues.
During the selectmen’s meeting and the water commissioners’ meeting most of the public comments were critical of the decision of the two boards.
However, at the water commissioners’ meeting Wednesday, Orleans resident Curt Collyer expressed his support of the commissioners’ decision.
“The town does not have the resources to manage this project,” said Collyer.
Selectman Mark Carron said at this point it was unlikely the water commissioners who voted against recommending the proposal would reverse their decision, but he believed it was worthwhile for a joint meeting between the selectmen, water commissioners, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and legal counsel to see if the project is “salvageable.”
“Whether it will change minds, I don’t know,” Carron said before selectmen voted in favor of requesting the meeting.
With a Sept. 17 deadline set by Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for the request for proposal to go out, water commissioner chairwoman Ann Hodgkinson said the “no” vote was motivated by unanswered financial aspects the town could possibly incur if the turbines were erected.
“It was a very long process and a very frustrating process but everybody did their job,” said Hodgkinson earlier this week.
Water commissioner Ken McKusick, who supported the project but was not present at the meeting for the vote, refuted allegations of misconduct by the board and said there was no “cabal or bad behavior.”
“This decision the other members made was after an exhaustive review,” said McKusick.
However, Kevin Galligan, who voted for the project, announced his decision to resign as water commissioner effective Oct. 1, and expressed his frustration over the Sept. 12 vote.
“Were there concerns and issues that needed to be addressed, absolutely. Were they show stoppers, no,” said Galligan.
Even with these concerns, Galligan said the request for proposal could still have gone out, but was written in such a way that at any time the town could have withdrawn the proposal.
“There were plenty of out clauses,” he added.
The board of selectmen voted not to accept Galligan’s resignation and would send a letter asking that he reconsider his decision to resign and commended him for his efforts as a water commissioner.
Interest in a town wind energy project was sparked after several town officials visited the South Shore town of Hull in 2001 to inspect its wind turbines. Massachusetts Technology Collaborative was requested by the town to assist with project planning and development, and the purchase of wind turbines.
A wind energy committee was established in 2003. Between June 25, 2003, and June 21, 2006, it held 55 public meetings to discuss, deliberate and explore the issues related to watershed protection and the development of the wind turbine project.
After a test tower and a study determined there were six possible sites for wind turbines, wind energy-related bylaws were approved by town meetings in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
The collaborative has provided more than $545,000 in funding and technical assistance to Orleans including feasibility studies, environmental impact notification and bird studies, legal, professional and engineering services and the $5.3 million purchase of the two wind turbines, according to MTC representatives.
The two towers would have generated 1.65 megawatts each and stood 397 feet high to the tips of the wings.
Chris Kealey, a spokesman for the collaborative, said MTC had not yet heard from the town about the selectmen’s vote to request a joint meeting.
“Certainly we would be willing to meet anytime,” he said. “We would be open to participating in any meeting as we have done in the past for years.”
Kealey said the vote of the water commissioners and the board of selectmen on Sept. 12 disappointed MTC, but it was the town’s right to decide whether to pursue a wind energy project. He added that if Orleans should decide to pursue a wind energy project, MTC would be willing to provide any assistance.
“We feel we have done a lot of ground work with the town of Orleans that could be applied to a future wind project should they decide to go forward,” said Kealey.
Even if a meeting between the town and MTC is held in the next few days, there is no guarantee the two turbines purchased by the collaborative will go to Orleans.
“What we have to go on is the decision of the town,” said Kealey, adding that seven other Massachusetts communities have expressed interest in obtaining the two turbines.
“Our goal is to get these turbines up in Massachusetts as soon as possible,” he said, and it was up to Orleans to take the next step.
By Matthew Belson
The Cape Codder
20 September 2007
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