Robert L. Platukas knows how to save on energy costs.
He was at the forefront of the solar energy movement in the 1970s, and still uses the same solar panels today.
Mr. Platukas heats his Auburn home with a pellet stove. And now he is helping the town investigate the potential that wind energy holds.
Auburn’s application for a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative – which Mr. Platukas assisted with – has just been sent to researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
The grant would help Auburn find out if there is enough wind above Granger Cliffs on the west side of Interstate 395 for a town wind turbine.
According to Auburn’s bylaws, wind machines are allowed by special permit from the Board of Appeals.The possibility Mr. Platukas envisions for Auburn is exciting: a way to potentially offset rising power costs with town-owned renewable energy.
While the subject of wind turbines calls to mind Nantucket Sound and other coastal communities, some Central Massachusetts towns, including Auburn, Fitchburg and Sutton, are considering or have adopted local regulations for wind turbines. To help communities through this process, the state has model zoning bylaws for large and small wind energy systems.
The Princeton Municipal Light Department began using wind turbines in 1984. Eight old turbines are being replaced by two 1,500-kilowatt turbines.
Sutton passed a bylaw for small wind turbines at a special town meeting in September, and Fitchburg is drafting regulations.
“With all the talk of greenhouse gases, global warming, and gas prices going up, down and sideways, in Sutton we thought it was time to do our part to encourage alternative energy,” said Sutton Town Planner Jennifer S. Hager.
Sutton’s bylaw allows for a turbine of no more than 20 kilowatts, and includes fall-zone regulations and decibel level requirements.
“It’s not a lot of power, but it’s enough to power one or two good-sized homes,” Ms. Hager said.
Prior to the bylaw, Sutton approved a small wind-turbine application for King Farm. The Planning Board termed that an agricultural use.
Gregory J. and Michelle A. Lemay of Fitchburg proposed a 10 kilowatt wind turbine on a 100-foot pole on their property earlier this year, but in November were denied a permit from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals because of abutter concerns and because the city is working on, but has not adopted, a wind turbine ordinance.
The couple built their home in 2004 on Oak Hill Road, and after moving in found there was a constant breeze on the property that could be harnessed for energy.
Their application, said Mr. Lemay, was the impetus to get the city started on its wind turbine ordinance. Mr. Lemay said he and his wife will continue to advocate for the ordinance.
The breeze, which Mr. Lemay has measured at 11.4 miles per hour, could provide a monthly average of about 1,400 kilowatts, more in the winter and less in the summer.
Mr. Lemay has become a distributer/installer of Bergey wind turbines, and fields inquiries about wind energy and products.
“It’s the Seven Hills of Worcester County, the higher altitudes” said Mr. Lemay, about what makes inland communities in Central Massachusetts appropriate for wind turbines. “Fitchburg is the second hilliest city in the country next to San Francisco, and we are able to take advantage of those crests.” Auburn has the ideal location for a wind turbine, said Mr. Platukas. The town owns three large plots on the west side of I-395, an area with few homes that is easily concealed by the geography. Some of that land was once considered for a new elementary school.
Mr. Plautkas said that the school could still be built, but with an added benefit: A wind turbine could power the school.
“We could have a new school with no (energy) bills,” said Mr. Platukas.
Worcester adopted a zoning amendment for wind energy conversion in June, regulating dimensional requirements, sound, design and setbacks.
The amendment was adopted in response to an application from Holy Name Central Catholic High School for a wind turbine to provide electricity. Mary E. Riordon, president of Holy Name, said the school spends about $200,000 annually for electricity, and uses an estimated 945 kilowatts per year.
The school was built with electric heat, which was popular at the time but has since helped to run up energy costs.
“Another reason is that being good stewards of our resources is a Catholic value,” said Mrs. Riordon, who said she is a lifelong environmentalist. “It is apparent on campus that we have one resource – wind.”
Mrs. Riordon said school officials have been working with Sustainable Energy Development, a consulting firm from Ontario, N.Y., and expect to choose a wind turbine by the end of next week, and then apply for the appropriate city permits.
The turbine will provide all the energy the school needs; for any extra, the school would receive a credit from National Grid.Under state mandate, 3 percent of power sold in Massachusetts this year must come from new renewable energy sources or alternative mechanisms. Of that portion, wind accounts for under 1 percent.
The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester recently received a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Renewable Energy Trust for a study to determine the feasibility of constructing a wind turbine on campus.
Chris Clark, senior project manager for the Massachusetts Community Wind Collaborative, said it is common for wind turbines to be located with large energy users, such as school buildings, because of the economic advantages of having the power production on site.
The Massachusetts Community Wind Collaborative, part of the Westboro-based Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, helps municipalities interested in wind turbine projects on municipal land. The collaborative gives assistance on site selection, feasibility, and helps with project development.
Once the site is surveyed, the collaborative offers workshops to educate the community about wind power. It provides wind analysis and a project financial analysis.
If the project proves worthy, the community develops a business plan and budget and decides on project ownership.
The collaborative can provide grants of up to $150,000 to support the project and a standing offer to purchase Renewable Energy Certificates – rights to the environmental benefits of renewable energy – generated by the project.
The Wind Collaborative is currently working on feasibility studies for Worcester Vocational Technical High School, and for municipal sites in Rutland, Spencer, Auburn and Leicester.
“In general, there is a growing interest in wind energy across the state,” Mr. Clark said.
By Donna Boynton
3 December 2007
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