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Hopkinton turbine sites lack strong wind, study shows

HOPKINTON – A state report released this week shows that two proposed wind turbine sites on school property appear to offer only mild breezes, potentially keeping the green energy initiative from getting off the ground.

The assessment is based on a computer model’s projected yearly average and was made by the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for the state’s renewable energy agency, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative in Westborough.

The town will now have to decide whether it wants to pursue the project and apply for a state grant, with the next step likely to entail putting up a tower to measure the actual wind speed average.

The collaborative is expected to work with Hopkinton to examine the project’s financial potential and “see if it makes sense for them,” said Chris Clark, the senior project manager at the agency’s Renewable Energy Trust.

While the agency typically declines to fund projects with wind projections similar to Hopkinton’s, Clark said any educational benefit included in the proposal might help the town’s pitch.

If that were the case, “we would certainly take a close look at the project,” Clark said.

Town officials had asked the collaborative to study two potential turbine sites, one at the field hockey pitch next to the high school and one at the baseball field behind the middle school.

But the report finds estimated wind speed averages are only “poor to fair” at both sites, with 13 miles per hour projected at a height of 230 feet. The report also notes that the two fields are near wetlands, with any construction facing possible environmental restrictions.

School Committee member and project coordinator Rebecca Robak could not be reached for comment yesterday. She has previously said that wind energy could provide some of the power for the Hayden Rowe Street school campus.

News of the report follows a School Committee vote Monday paving the way for a firm to place solar panels on two schools and the police and fire stations.

If the town decides to pursue the project, it could apply for a feasibility study grant through the collaborative’s Large Onsite Renewables Initiative, a move that would likely lead to the erection of a measurement tower. Grants are capped at $40,000 and municipalities are required to kick in at least 15 percent of the cost.

If results come back positive, Hopkinton could then seek a design and construction grant worth up to $400,000.

By Michael Morton/Daily News staff

The MetroWest Daily News

31 July 2008