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Minuteman offers $220K for turbines

SAVOY – The president of Minuteman Wind LLC told the Selectmen during Tuesday night’s meeting that his company would give the town about $220,000 annually in the form of a payment in lieu of taxes if its proposed wind farm is approved for a special permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Some residents are celebrating the offer as an answer to daunting financial problems while others are viewing it as a double-edged sword better left alone.

Donald S. McCauley, of Framing- ham, would like to build five 425-foot 12.5-megawatt turbines on a 290-acre property on West Hill owned by Harold “Butch” Malloy. A special permitting process for the $22 million wind farm does not yet exist, however. The company owners are waiting for voters to decide on a new bylaw next month.

There are two bylaw proposals, which will be put to a vote during separate town meetings. Malloy used a state-designed wind-farm bylaw template to write one proposal. The Planning Board wrote the other.

Minuteman Wind will only continue if Malloy’s bylaw passes, mainly because the board’s bylaw would limit the height of wind turbines to 350 feet.

Planning Board member Karen Dobe-Costa said the board would continue to stand by its bylaw proposal, despite Minuteman’s offer. She said the 350-foot height limit is not restrictive because there are commercial wind turbines shorter than that. She said she believed the newly-erected turbine at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock, for example, is shorter than 350 feet. In fact, the tubular tower part of Jiminy’s turbine is 253 feet, but the total height from the ground to blade tip is 375 feet.

“We believe our version is the most appropriate for the town,” Dobe-Costa said.

The Selectmen are holding a special town meeting tonight to ask voters to draw about $70,000 from the stabilization fund to make up for a deficit Savoy faced this year, which was mainly a result of a dramatic spike in school costs. Bettis said if a vote to transfer the funds fails, the school budget will be cut as a last resort.

“Part of our job is to find revenue,” Selectman Joseph Bettis told an audience of about 12. “There aren’t a lot of building opportunities left in town.”

The town is risking bankruptcy next year if faced with similar deficits, according to the Selectmen. Selectman Chairman John Tynan said the town might receive some help through grants, but he sees few other sources of income.

“It seems crazy not to do this,” audience member Thomas Marshall said of approving Malloy’s bylaw.

Marshall asked each of the Select- men to say how he would vote on the bylaw on Jan. 3. The bylaw requires a two-thirds majority vote from the townspeople to pass.

“I’m for it,” Bettis said.

“I would like to see it happen,” Tynan said, adding he would suggest a few changes on the floor at the town meeting, the most significant of which would require Malloy to more specifically outline what would happen if a wind farm fails part way through construction.

Selectman Scott Koczela said he would need more time to think about how wind turbines might detract from the quality of life of those who would leave within sight of the turbines.

Under the terms of McCauley’s proposal, Savoy would receive a payment in lieu of taxes for the wind farm so assessors would not need to calculate the fluctuating value of the farm every year. This would, in turn, make calculating the town’s annual budget easier. The agreement would last for 15 years, at which time Minuteman intends to finish paying its debts. Then, the company and townspeople would reevaluate the agreement. McCauley said the proposed payment is subject to negotiation. He said his company would have more information on the project’s finances when if it receives a special permit allowing construction.

McCauley said he would order Minuteman’s turbines shortly after Malloy’s bylaw passes. It would take three years for them to be delivered.

Malloy said it is critical for the Selectmen and townspeople to support a bylaw that would allow Minuteman Wind to build because it would alleviate Savoy’s financial strains and help offset the negative repercussions of energy derived from increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

“This isn’t just about the money for me,” he said. “I think this is the most important decision that Savoy has ever faced.”

By Bonnie Obremski

North Adams Transcript

19 December 2007