January 3, 2008

Savoy wind showdown

This is Savoy’s last shot, Harold “Butch” Malloy of Chapel Road said on Wednesday inside his small, two-story log cabin: Either Savoy residents want wind-powered electricity turbines in town or they don’t – and they will need to decide tonight at a special town meeting at 7 p.m. in the fire station.

Malloy has written a bylaw using a state-designed template that would allow wind turbine developers to apply for a special building permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Malloy owns 290 acres on West Hill, where Minuteman Wind LLC of Framingham hopes to put a $22 million, five-turbine, 12.5 megawatt wind farm.

“The deal is off the table and Minuteman is gone,” Malloy said, describing what would happen if the bylaw he is proposing fails to pass tonight with the required two-thirds majority approval. There are more than 500 registered voters in town.

He added that he would also fail to reach a personal goal of helping to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels – a goal he set after researching the potentially lucrative project.

The “deal” Minuteman is offering is an estimated $220,000 annual payment in lieu of taxes to the town of Savoy once the wind farm is running, which would be in about four years. That figure would be subject to negotiation, Minuteman President Don McCauley has said. He proposed the figure would increase yearly at a rate of about 3 percent to account for rises in the cost of living.

Town Assessor Edwin R. Wilk said on Wednesday the proposed payment would likely not cause the state to decrease its annual aid payments, even though a West Hill neighbor, Lloyd Crawford, retired assessor for the town of Hawley, has said that it could.

The members of Savoy’s Planning Board disagree with Malloy’s sense of urgency. The board has written its own bylaw and intends to put that one to a vote at another special town meeting, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 17. Planning Board Chairman Jamie Reinhardt has contended that the board’s bylaw, which has a 350-foot turbine height limit, is not so restrictive that it would deter all development. Instead, he has said the board’s bylaw would do more to protect the rights and interests of residents than Malloy’s.

Not so, said Malloy. He said data, which engineers provided for Minuteman, shows West Hill is the only privately owned property in Savoy that would support a wind farm – that is, if the turbines are at least 425 feet tall. Shorter turbines would not stretch high enough to capture the steady winds flowing above the turbulent mountain top gusts. The only other land that might support a wind farm is in Savoy Mountain State Forest, according to the engineer’s report.

Reinhardt said he still believed there could be developers who would find a way to build according to the stipulations of the board’s bylaw. As for Minuteman’s potential payments, Reinhardt said Savoy has struggled with finances for a long time and could find other solutions to its problems.

If tonight’s vote passes, the Planning Board’s proposed bylaw would be amended so that it would, upon passage, override the bylaw Malloy brought forward.

If residents do not approve Malloy’s or the Planning Board’s bylaw, future developers could still ask the Zoning Board of Appeals for permission to build. But, the Zoning Board would have no rules to use as reference. And, according to Malloy, no savvy developer would build a wind farm in a town that has not shown its support for turbines through the development of a bylaw.

Residents opposing turbine development in Savoy have been concerned that the windmills could ruin the one of the town’s most valuable attractions – its rural setting. Turbines have a modern appearance and the spinning blades can create some noise. At night, lights flash to ward away low-flying aircraft.

Crawford, who owns Stump Sprouts Cross Country Ski Area, said he believed the noise of a nearby wind farm might detract from a customer’s enjoyment. His bigger concern, however, was that Minuteman’s farm would set a precedent that would attract more and more turbine developers. Crawford said he would also like to quell the rumor that he once considered leasing his land to a turbine developer in the past.

“I’m a tad frustrated because since I’m not a Savoy resident, I can’t vote,” Crawford said. “If there are tax benefits for the people of Savoy, there will be no benefits for me” – and he would still have to listen to the potential noise, he said.

The Savoy residents who would live closest to the wind farm said on Wednesday that they are supportive of the project. Isabelle Harwood, who also works as a town assessor, said she and her husband Kenneth are fascinated by the turbines and would be willing to live within 1,600 feet of them if it would mean contributing to the movement to use energy from renewable resources.

“I have lived and raised a family in Savoy for over 43 years,” she wrote in a statement. “I know how tough it is for most of us to deal with rising taxes in this town. So, why not take advantage of this renewable energy resource?”

She referenced that the wind farm would power about 3,000 homes in the area, including many of the 240 houses in Savoy.

Alice Liebenow, a 70-year-old Savoy native, said Savoy should consider embracing a new identity as a community willing to invest in helping to improve the environment.

“Then the state might finally find out that there is a Berkshire County,” she said.

By Bonnie Obremski

North Adams Transcript

3 January 2008

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