HARPSWELL – Residents will decide at Town Meeting if Harpswell should pursue a wind study atop the 200-foot ridge known as Long Reach.
The Board of Selectmen last week unanimously voted to put the study on the warrant, meaning voters will ultimately determine if exploring a three- or four-turbine wind farm is in the town’s best interests.
The article will be debated on the floor during Town Meeting in March.
Costs of the study have been estimated between $25,000 and $35,000. However, the article states that the first $20,000 would be raised privately. If approved, the town would contribute the difference, but no more than $10,000.
Chances for a wind study appeared slim after the town learned in December that it would not get one at no cost from the University of Massachusetts Renewable Energy Research Laboratories. RERL said wind model readings atop the town’s highest point showed that a proposed wind farm on Long Reach may not be economically viable.
Resident Richard Newman, who has initiated the exploration of Long Reach, disagreed with those findings, saying RERL’s wind readings were based on assumptions and that Harpswell was competing with other larger, projects for no-cost studies.
RERL pays for its studies using grants from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“(RERL’s simulations) have been proven in some cases and incorrect in other cases,” Newman said. “They fully understand that … the difference between what they think we have and what is required is about six-tenths of 1 percent.”
Last month, Mary Knight, a member of the RERL pre-development team, said wind speed models showed the site to be a low-wind location. Knight said wind readings of 6.5 meters per second are necessary to make a project economically feasible. Long Reach, she said, showed 6 meters per second (13 mph).
Knight said those readings don’t rule out the overall viability of wind turbines on Long Reach. But coupled with the cost of the project – estimated between $10 million and $12 million – a marginal wind source may make Long Reach unattractive to a private developer.
Although the turbines would be built on town-owned land, the original proposal was to lease the property to a developer who could afford the project.
She said developers tend to target locations with wind speed of 7.5 to 8 meters per second.
“Things do change,” Knight said. “As the price of energy goes up the economics look better on wind.”
Newman agreed, adding that RERL’s letter to the town states that Long Reach could gain economic viability along with the rising price of energy.
“As the price of energy goes up the criteria goes down,” he said. “That will inevitably take place over the years ahead. In all probability the adequacy of the wind (at Long Reach) will be better as the years go on.”
In making his case for warrant article to the Board of Selectmen, Newman said a $10,000 investment by residents would be modest in comparison to the proposed benefits.
“If this should succeed, the town stands to get very considerable cash revenue,” he said. “In addition, we have something that’s positive for the environment and we have potential cash income for a remote property that’s not particularly attractive for residential development.”
Regardless of how residents feel about a wind farm at Long Reach, Newman encouraged residents to vote yes for the wind study.
“A vote against (the study) is, to some degree, to say that the potential income to the town is meaningless,” he said. “We’d only be hurting ourselves.”
Newman, a retired investment banker and research analyst, said that he has no financial interest in a wind farm at Long Reach.
“I am 100 percent pro bono,” he said. “I have a letter on record with the town stating that I will not benefit from this endeavor. I will not ask for compensation, nor will I accept any.”
Newman said that he already has verbal commitments for $3,000 toward the wind study. He added that he has spoken with two potential contractors to develop the wind farm, but declined to name them, saying it was too soon in the process.
If approved by residents, the town would set up an energy fund for the $10,000 allocation. If private funding for the study fails to reach two-thirds of total costs by March 2009, the project would terminate.
The wind study would take a year, with residents potentially deciding on a Long Reach wind farm by 2010.
“People can decide how they feel about the wind farm later,” Newman said. “We should keep an open mind in approaching the potential we have there.”
By Steve Mistler
24 January 2008
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