In some parts of the state, from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, wind turbines are springing up to power municipal offices, homes, and businesses as a push for cheap alternatives to fossil-fuel energy continues to mount.
But in the suburbs west of Boston, where green sentiments often run deep, one major hurdle stands in the way of environmental advocates and energy cost cutters – insufficient wind speeds.
Though there are a few exceptional places that are conducive to turbines, the region has neither the open, breezy spaces of mountainous terrain nor the blustery coastal climate that could provide the steady winds necessary to turn the giant, electricity-generating fans, specialists say.
“Any noncoastal place in Massachusetts, from a regional perspective, is just not all that windy to begin with,” said Tom Michelman, owner of Boreal Renewable Energy Development, an Acton company that erects wind turbines. “It’s not a very windy region of the state, and you aren’t going to find a lot” of turbines.
Still, there is no shortage of local residents and officials showing interest in wind turbines, as people explore every possible way to help trim their reliance on fossil fuels and their rising energy bills. Among area communities, residents or officials in Bolton, Boylston, Holliston, Hudson, Stow, and Wrentham have looked at the option recently.
The Stow Board of Selectmen has discussed building a wind turbine on town property, but its chairman, Stephen Dungan, said the panel found local wind speeds were simply not high enough to make it pay off.
“Basically, the option wasn’t there,” he said.
The Bolton Energy Committee, which formed last year to explore green energy sources, has not fully investigated wind power, but the town has an average wind speed in many places of about 9 miles per hour, which is on the threshold of making a turbine feasible, said Laura Kischitz, a member of the committee. The panel’s members plan to explore the issue further, since hilly areas of Bolton may have even higher wind speeds, she said.
“It’s right on the cusp of being a viable solution, so it’s a bit of a gamble,” Kischitz said.
Wind turbines can rise hundreds of feet above the ground, which can create conflicts in residential neighborhoods. A few communities have bylaws in place to deal with such projects, but those also can create confusion about how to handle a turbine in someone’s backyard.
Mark Durrenberger, owner of New England Breeze LLC, a Hudson company that builds wind turbines for residences and businesses, said his company has installed three wind turbines in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Two of the turbines stirred concerns about aesthetics among neighbors, he said. Noise emanating from the turbines was also an issue, but the machines are quiet for the most part, he said.
One obstacle is the height of trees in many towns, which necessitates a higher turbine in order to catch the wind above the tree line, Durrenberger said.
While wind speeds in the middle part of the state are generally moderate, exceptions do exist. One such community is Ashby, a hill town north of Worcester where winds regularly clock more than 13 miles per hour and the trees lean over because of the constant pressure of the wind, a phenomenon known as “flagging,” Durrenberger said. Generally speaking, 10-mile-per-hour average winds are needed to sustain a turbine, he said.
Governor Deval Patrick is pushing legislation that would expand the abilities of towns and businesses to reap the benefits of wind turbines from faraway locales where wind power is more viable. Under the proposal, those wanting to invest in wind power could lease or buy property in another part of the state, build a turbine there, and use its output to gain credits on their electrical bill through a deal with the local utility, an arrangement called net-metering.
Dana Harris, president of NewPath Energy in Holliston, started his wind-turbine company recently in the hope of taking advantage of the new legislation, which he called “very progressive.”
While wind turbines can cost up to $4 million, the terms of the net-metering law have the potential to provide a stable and low price for electricity, paying the cost back in a few years’ time, he said.
Harris envisions consumers banding together in groups of 200 or more to invest jointly in a net-metering wind turbine in another part of the state.
“It’s only the up-front costs you have to pay,” Harris said.
“Maintenance costs are low,” he continued, “and there’s no fuel cost, so it could be a huge boon to people.”
By Matt Gunderson
16 March 2008
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