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Hopkinton eyes wind power for schools  

With home games held at a high point in Middlesex County’s highest town, residents who watch football at Hopkinton High School know the contests can prove to be blustery affairs.

So while turning gusts into renewable energy is more commonly done in coastal areas and mountains, the School Committee is investigating whether a wind turbine could be installed near the gridiron to cut down on energy costs and pollution.

If the initiative succeeds, the town could help put MetroWest on the alternative energy map, along with a proposal for another turbine at Staples’ Framingham headquarters.

“For me, it’s also an environmental thing,” said School Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Robak, who came up with the Hopkinton turbine proposal after being asked for ideas by the Financial Plan Working Group, a volunteer organization looking to trim costs and boost revenue.

The group’s co-chairman, fellow School Committee member Phil Totino, has encouraged Robak to pursue her suggestion.

“I thought it was a great idea,” he said.

Robak envisions producing enough power for the high school and the adjacent middle and elementary schools. She has her sights on a spot behind the high school, where the proposed turbine would be out of sight and a safe distance from the athletic fields.

The next step for the town is to contact the Renewable Energy Trust at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasi-public state agency in Westborough that encourages renewable energy development.

Hopkinton has two options, said Jim Christo, the director of the trust’s Green Buildings and Infrastructure Project: either apply for a free study of potential turbine sites around town, or go straight to a grant application for a feasibility study at the high school. If the trust determines the town is serious about building a turbine and the site has enough space and wind, Hopkinton could qualify for a $40,000 grant to help hire a consultant – usually a $50,000 expense.

The consultant would put up a tower to measure the wind speed, likely leaving it up for a year to gather data. The trust would then look at the results and produce a cost-benefit analysis, after which the town could apply for a design and construction grant worth up to $400,000.

While costs vary depending on the size of the turbine and site conditions, Christo said Holy Name Central Catholic High School in Worcester plans to build a $2 million turbine to generate 60 percent of its electricity.

As for Hopkinton’s potential, “My guess is it’s going to be a more moderate wind speed,” Christo said. “The wind maps indicate it’s possible.”

If so, the town would join Framingham as the only MetroWest municipalities with wind projects sponsored by the trust. However the initiative in Framingham, a private effort by Staples, is stalled, with the company challenging a decision by the town’s Board of Appeals that prohibits construction of a 160-foot wind tower.

With resistance elsewhere in the state to turbines, most notably to Cape Wind’s proposal for a wind farm off Nantucket, Robak is hoping to avoid a bruising battle in Hopkinton should the town’s project prove feasible. She is scheduled to give an update on the effort at tonight’s School Committee meeting.

“I know there will be a lot of political resistance,” she said. “We’ll have to shore up for that.”

By Michael Morton

MetroWest Daily News

5 March 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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