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Brimfield wind farm proposal coming into focus as proposal for Massachusetts to take control from towns stalls

BRIMFIELD – The town and its residents are just beginning to understand the implications of an eight-to-10-turbine wind farm proposed for West Mountain just as a state proposal to take control of wind projects away from towns stalls in the legislature.

“This all lets the townspeople know that it ultimately will be the citizens’ vote at Town Meeting,” said Thomas C. Marino, chairman of the Brimfield Board of Selectmen. “In a small town that is what should happen.”

Developer Firstwind LLC already has a meteorological tower in place on a leased parcel of land near Steerage Rock north of Route 20 to test the strength and frequency of the wind in the area, said Matthew T. Kearns, the company’s Maine-based vice president of business development for the eastern United States. The results of that study will go a long way toward determining the size and shape of the Brimfield Wind project.

But Kearns said the eight to 10 turbines could range in capacity from 1.5 megawatts to 2.5 megawatts each. The smaller turbines would be 385 feet from the ground to the tip of the blade at the highest point of its arc. The 2.5-megawatt turbines could be 400 feet tall, again measuring from the ground to the blade tip at its highest point. Spread out over about 30 acres, the turbines would be capable of supplying about 25 megawatts of electricity, or about enough power to supply 15,000 homes.

Kearns said he doesn’t yet know from how far away the turbines will be visible. That information will be included in as-yet-uncompleted environmental impact study. Kearns said the Brimfield site was attractive in part because it already has roads and radio towers in place.

The area also has power substations and lines so the power can get to the grid.

Thomas C. Marino, Brimfield’s chairman of the Board of Selectmen said he also wants to know about the flicker of sunlight reflecting off the turbine blades, noise pollution from the whoosh of blades overhead and the impact of power transmission lines and access roads.

“It’s really fact-finding,” Marino said Monday afternoon. “I don’t have a pro or con view at this point. There are plenty of people who have definite views and have expressed that to me.”

Marino said he and other town officials are planning to make a fact-finding trip next month to Firstwind’s up-and-running wind project in remote Aroostook County, Maine. He said technical environmental impact reports will be available in November. The town will likely also hire a consultant to analyze those reports.

In order to move forward, Firstwind will need the town to take the properties out of an agricultural preservation program. Firstwind would also need a zoning bylaw that would have to be approved at a Town Meeting. The next regularly scheduled Town Meeting is in May 2011.

He said Firstwind is offering a payment in lieu of taxes to the town of $140,000 a year over for 20 years. The town now has an annual budget of $8 million a year.

“That’s a lot of money to a town like ours,” he said.

But a new state law, proposed by Gov. Deval L. Patrick, would have taken this review process out of the hands of towns by allowing wind-farm developers to appeal to a state commission. It’s part of Patrick’s push to get 2,000 megawatts of wind-powered generating capacity online in Massachusetts by 2020. That effort could require the installation of as many as 3,000 turbines, according to The Associated Press.

The bill failed to pass a parliamentary vote before the formal session of the state legislature ended in July. Monday, State Sen. Michael R. Knapik, R-Westfield, blocked the bill from coming up in informal session. Any one lawmaker can block a bill from moving forward in an informal session.

“I think people want to feel good about turbines. However, put one in your back yard. Put 100 in your back yard,” Knapik said Monday in a phone interview. “That is the only way we are going to get to this scale.”

Knapik said Western Massachusetts with its hills and the area north of Boston on the coast are the only commercially viable places for wind turbines. So lawmakers like him who represent these regions took a special interest in this legislation.

“I love the idea of using nature’s renewable resources,” Knapik said. “But we are a small state. That’s a lot of turbines. They all aren’t going to be out in the woods.”

Donald Moriarty, owner of Heart-O-the-Mart in Brimfield’s famous antiques show, said the turbines might draw people to the community.

“It would be a visual reminder that at last we are doing something to unshackle us from the fossil fuel dependence that we’ve had for the last century,” Moriarty said. “I think they are no less attractive than the telephone poles that we’ve become accustomed to.”