The deal to buy the $25 million energy venture could allow construction to restart
The Berkshire Wind Project, a $25 million, 10-turbine wind energy project on Brodie Mountain that is facing two lawsuits, is under contract to be sold to a municipal utility consortium for $4 million.
Once the sale is completed in May, the new ownership status could render one pending lawsuit moot and prevent new lawsuits from further delaying the project. The first lawsuit is awaiting a decision on a motion for dismissal.
Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. said its purchase includes all of Berkshire Wind’s plans and assets, and that it intends to complete the project quickly and start generating power for its members.
MMWEC is owned by its members – 25 Massachusetts municipal utilities including Holyoke and Westfield. The municipal conglomerate fills its power needs through a bidding process among wholesale energy brokers.
The company also owns pieces of several other power generation facilities, including nuclear plants in Seabrook, N.H., and Waterford, Conn., and the Stony Brook power plant in Ludlow, and an oil-fired plant in Yarmouth, Maine.
Berkshire Wind Project “represents a terrific source of clean, renewable energy for municipal utilities and the Commonwealth as a whole,” said COO Ronald C. DeCurzio. “Berkshire Wind has worked diligently over the past decade to develop the existing project assets, and it is MMWEC’s intent to complete the project and bring it into operation.”
Dale Osborn, president of Distributed Generation Systems Inc., or DisGen, which owns the Berkshire Wind project, said costs incurred in developing the Berkshire project over the past 10 years exceed $6 million.
“While this project has taken a very long time and the resulting economics have not been favorable to DisGen, we are pleased to be the first entity to complete the development process for a utility-scale, commercial wind system in Massachusetts,” Osborn said. DisGen also has developed wind projects in Colorado and Pennsylvania.
A lawsuit against the project by Silverleaf Resorts, which plans a 332-unit, $42 million condominium project at the former Brodie ski area site off Route 7, has entered a motion to dismiss the legal proceedings.
Another lawsuit brought by Silverleaf Resorts and two residents of Hancock, which alleges that a special permit had expired before construction of the project started and that the special permit was not issued legally, could become moot upon completion of the sale.
MMWEC, created by the Legislature in 1975, is owned by municipally owned utility companies. It’s a nonprofit, publicly owned corporation, and a political subdivision of the state. As such, MMWEC is exempt from local zoning regulations, which would render the second lawsuit no legal grounds.
Once the sale is complete, there are fewer means by which lawsuits could delay the project, according to DisGen attorney Michael Vhay. “I would be shaking my head to figure out what else they could throw at us,” he said. “I’m quite confident MMWEC will be able to build this thing any way they want to.”
The Berkshire Wind project includes 10 340-foot tall, 1.5-megawatt GE wind turbines. The wind farm should generate enough power for 5,000 households.
Planned since 1998, the project broke ground in 2006. An access road and several wind turbine foundations were nearly complete when Silverleaf’s lawsuit brought work to a halt. An access road and some excavation work has been completed.
According to MMWEC spokesman David Tuohey, the company is hoping for power generation to begin in 2010, if everything goes according to plan. “Wind turbines can be hard to come by these days,” he said.
MMWEC’s involvement in the project is being funded through agreements with 15 Massachusetts municipal utilities that initially agreed to purchase all of the project’s output but recently authorized MMWEC to pursue outright ownership.
The municipal utilities participating in this initiative are based in the communities of Ashburnham, Belmont, Boylston, Groton, Holden, Hull, Ipswich, Marblehead, Paxton, Peabody, Shrewsbury, Sterling, Templeton, Wakefield and West Boylston. MMWEC has no members in Berkshire County.
“Pursuit of this project is consistent with MMWEC’s efforts to make renewable energy and demand management resources an integral part of the municipal power supply,” DeCurzio said. “It also is consistent with MMWEC’s commitment to addressing climate change issues and finding alternatives to fossil fuels for power generation,” he said.
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff
7 February 2008
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