There are moments when I am so outraged I don’t know what to say first. That happened when I read that Don McCauley, head of Minuteman Wind, was shopping his Savoy wind project to the towns of Wellesley and Concord in eastern Massachusetts. He wants them to invest in the five-turbine facility planned for West Hill.
Those are two of the state’s richest towns. The average new house in Wellesley – Don McCauley’s home town – is 4,600 square feet. Median prices are $1. 24 million. That town uses so much energy, half the output from the 420-foot turbines planned in Savoy would service only 8 percent of its electricity needs.
The Brodie wind project, ten 400-foot turbines in Hancock, has been purchased by 14 towns in central and eastern Massachusetts. The average new home in Marblehead, one of the proud new owners of Brodie, is nearly 3,900 square feet. In Belmont – former home of Gov. Romney – new homes are averaging 3,600 square feet.
Clearly, these towns consume a lot of resources. Don’t expect that to change. Their investments in Berkshire wind projects are so awash in federal and state subsidies, it costs very little for them to proclaim their support for wind turbines out here and feel virtuous in their air-conditioned mansions out there.
The Brodie owners are brazen enough to be lobbying for $47 million in federal stimulus funds to build their project! They are trespassing on private property, threatening eminent domain and generally acting like
entitled bullies trying to intimidate the locals.
Now, those towns and others like them have really hit the jackpot. The state Legislature is fast-tracking a bill that would override local zoning on the siting of wind turbines and all the associated transmission lines, and public and private roads. It will lay the groundwork for opening public land to wind development, and it will exempt all wind projects from environmental laws that we ordinary folks have to follow.
The Wind Energy Siting Reform Act was cooked up by a committee appointed by the governor and stacked with lawyers and lobbyists for the wind industry.
The governor has made this legislation a top priority, and the Legislature could vote on it within the next few weeks.
The legislation is targeted at the Berkshires, and its purpose is to open land here for wind turbines, regardless of what our communities want. The state has already mapped all the estimated wind resources on public and private land and recently released a study identifying potential development sites.
Savoy is facing the prospect of up to 110 wind turbines at six locations on public land within and along its borders. Hancock could see 90 wind turbines in four locations on public land; in fact, three of the state’s top five priority sites are there. Many towns don’t fare much better: Washington and its immediate neighbors face a potential of 80 turbines on public land; Windsor, 34; Williamstown, 23.
Altogether, of the 44 sites on public land mapped by the state, 33 are in central and northern Berkshires (from Lee northward), for a total of 512 wind turbines, by the state’s own calculations. And that’s just the public land sites.
When I speak about these numbers to people, they throw up their hands and talk of moving. But what will that accomplish? Move to some other place, and soon enough someone will be along to take what you’ve got there, too. As long as you have anything coveted by someone else, and they’ve got the power to extract it from you, you’re vulnerable.
Other people have said, well, maybe we’ll get some jobs and taxes. Don’t count on it. Towns like Searsburg in Vermont certainly haven’t seen an influx of jobs. The 11 turbines there have one maintenance person. Tourism hasn’t picked up: People arrive in busloads to gawk, and then depart, spending no money in town. And Searsburg has had a very mixed record on taxes: Its sudden rise in property valuation when the turbines were built changed its qualification for state school funds. The company later returned to reduce its property tax. Small towns bargaining with huge corporations shouldn’t expect to fare well.
There’s only one way to fight back against these rapacious practices and laws: Try to stop the legislation before it’s adopted by the Statehouse.
Call Reps. Dan Bosley and Denis Guyer. Complain to Se. Ben Downing. But don’t stop there. Call the legislative leadership (their phone numbers are on our Web site, www.greenberkshires.org.) contact your town boards, speak with your friends at local businesses. Call me at 528-9363. Get everyone you know involved, make an uproar, and, together, we may succeed. There are no guarantees, but we know the outcome of doing nothing.
Be clear about one thing, though: You are not invisible. Everyone on Beacon Hill and all the lawyers and lobbyists who stalk the halls there are watching. If you are silent, the wind developers will soon be galloping into your town, and it will be too late to stop them. Now is the time to act. You have a lot more power than you realize.
Eleanor Tillinghast is president of greenberkshires.org.
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