Framingham, Mass. – The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The question, my friend, is whether wind farms will establish a foothold in New England as a renewable energy source.
Minuteman Wind LLC is doing its part to bring this technology to the region. The Framingham-based company is proposing to build a 12.5-megawatt wind farm in the western Massachusetts town of Savoy. Minuteman jumped its first hurdle last month when Savoy’s voters adopted a turbine-regulating bylaw at a special Town Meeting. The vote was 155-56.
Next, Minuteman must receive a special permit from Savoy’s Zoning Board of Appeals to build the wind farm. The project entails installing five, 420-foot-high turbines on Savoy’s West Hill. The project will cost more than $20 million.
In the meantime, Minuteman is working on finalizing the project’s design and interviewing companies to install the turbines. It then must find electric companies to purchase the electricity the turbines will produce.
Minuteman would finance the farm’s construction and in turn receive profits from the sale of electricity as well as renewal energy credits.
If all goes according to plan, the farm will be operational by late 2009 or early 2010, according to Minuteman president Don McCauley. While other companies have projects in the works, Minuteman’s wind farm could the first one in Massachusetts.
The project’s benefits include providing Savoy with a yearly payment in lieu of taxes – $220,000 has been discussed. The owner of the 290 acres of land where the turbines would be built, Harold “Butch” Malloy, would be compensated by Minutemen for leasing his property. The dollar amount was not revealed.
The farm itself would generate 30 million kilowatts hours of electricity each year, enough to power 2,500 homes.
Minuteman Wind was started in Waltham in 2004 by a group of energy professionals interested in pursuing renewable energy projects in New England.
“We wanted to get involved in (these) projects because we felt there was a true need to develop renewable sources of energy,” McCauley said. “And we didn’t see many other projects happening in Massachusetts.”
In the spirit of the original Minutemen, the company’s motto is “declaring our energy independence.”
At the moment, the firm is focusing on Massachusetts, which houses only a handful of wind turbines. It moved its office to Framingham last year.
“It was a more convenient location,” McCauley said.
Convenience, however, isn’t the operative word when talking about the Bay State and wind energy.
“Massachusetts is a difficult place to develop wind energy,” McCauley said. “The topography and population density create permitting and cost issues. … Wind energy works best in farmland settings like the Great Plains and there are very few great plains in New England.”
McCauley acknowledged the Not In My Back Yard, or NIMBY, factor plays a major role in keeping wind turbines off the list of a community’s favorite things.
“A big part of the problem is you have to do small projects in Massachusetts and those aren’t as economic as larger projects,” the Wellesley resident said.
Minuteman’s first attempt to build a wind farm in Massachusetts took place in the town of Orange in 2004.
“The Federal Aviation Administration objected to the project due to the proximity to Orange Municipal Airport,” McCauley said.
He says the project is now “in hibernation. It’s not being actively developed now, but we would like to return to it at some point. We think the FAA’s concerns can be worked around. (The site) is three miles from the airport so we think airport procedures could be modified to accommodate the turbines.”
Savoy’s West Hill fit the bill for Minuteman’s second wind farm foray. Making the site attractive were such factors as height – it has a peak elevation of 1,800 feet – and, not surprisingly, wind. Malloy initiated the development of the site by erecting a wind test tower in 2003.
Minuteman began its preliminary exploration of the site in 2005 with Maynard-based Epsilon Associates Inc. hired to conduct assessments of the project’s environmental impact.
According to Epsilon’s report, the project “will not disturb any critical wetlands and will fall below the thresholds of disturbance contained in the state regulations.”
On the issue of noise, Epsilon’s analysis showed that the wind farm “will raise the level of ambient noise at the property line by only 1 (decibel), a level inaudible to normal ears and well below the regulatory threshold of 10 (decibels).”
Then there’s the visibility issue.
“The primary concern is the visual impact,” McCauley said. “Wind turbines are tall … but we think the visual impact is a small price to pay. We need renewable energy and this is the best way to get it. Many people actually find the wind turbines fascinating to look at.”
The project will be visible along several roads in Savoy, according to Epsilon’s report.
“Many views will be partial ones due to the geography or vegetation of any particular line of sight,” it states. “The project generally will not be visible from outside of Savoy. … The project will be visible from Mount Greylock, but at that distance the turbines will appear less than half an inch tall.”
While there are other forms of renewable energy such as solar and hydroelectric power, McCauley said wind has “the most commercially available technology right now. … Of the renewable energy sources, wind is the most economic. You get the greatest production for level of investment.”
Minuteman’s staff is no stranger to the energy industry. The combined experience in energy project development of its eight members exceeds 100 years.
Minuteman intends to add other projects to its resume and is currently looking at other sites in New England for wind farms. McCauley wouldn’t say where.
“I’d like to commend the citizens of Savoy for their support of the project,” he said. “We’re really gratified by the very strong support we got in the vote.”
By Bob Tremblay
GateHouse News Service
17 February 2008
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