BRIMFIELD – More than 90 people packed into a tight first-floor meeting room at the Hitchcock Free Academy on Monday night to hear developers of a proposed wind-turbine wind farm explain what the controversial project does and why they feel it is critical that the eight to 10 massive windmills be placed along a mountain ridge in Brimfield.
Anyone expecting particulars about this project was likely disappointed because there weren’t any particulars to be presented. Or at least, as First Wind company spokesman David Velez repeatedly stressed, there aren’t any yet.
The company has yet to determine the number of turbines, where they will be placed or how high they will need to be to be effective. He also did not know how much the project would cost and could offer only best guesses about how the town would benefit in terms of jobs, economic development or revenue to the town.
All that will come as the project develops further on the drawing board, he said. At this point, it exists as an idea in need of a drawing board, he said.
For the audience that packed into the meeting room for the two-hour presentation, that did not seem to be good enough.
“I have no opinion on wind power – I don’t care,” said Brimfield resident John Fearing. “I just don’t like having this jammed down our throats.”
Several times during the presentation, moderator Jo Anne Shatkin, the managing director for CLF Ventures, had to call order after people in the audience breached meeting protocol by attempting to ask questions. Questions were to be written on index cards and passed to the front of the room, and not shouted from the floor, she said.
“This is not a forum to make opinions,” she said. “This is not the place for debate.”
The evening was presented as an informational session arranged by First Wind to solicit and respond to questions about the project, primarily about the economic impact. Answering questions were Velez and Steven Clarke of the state Department of Energy Resources.
The company had an similar meeting in June and plans another one on Sept. 21 at the Hitchcock Free Academy to go over ecological concerns.
“This is an informational meeting for you to learn and for us to explain what wind energy is and what it isn’t, and what this project is and what it isn’t,” she said.
The meeting was not intended as a substitute for a public hearing on the project that will be required by law as the project is officially presented to the town boards of selectmen and planning, she said.
Clarke said the Patrick Administration is committed to increasing the amount of “green energy,” or energy not produced through coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power. The administration has set a goal of 2,000 megawatts by 2020. The projections for Brimfield call for between 20 and 25 megawatts, which would be enough power for around 10,000 homes.
He said Massachusetts has the fourth-highest energy costs nationwide behind Hawaii, New York and Connecticut, and this is mostly do to the state having to import its energy from other places. “We pay significantly for energy because we are at the end of the pipeline.”
Massachusetts has the potential for 8,500 megawatts of wind power, he said. Most of it, or 6,000 megawatts, would come from turbines placed off shore in the Atlantic Ocean, such as the Cape Wind project, he said. The total amount of land-based turbines, in places such as Brimfield, have the potential for 1,500 megawatts.
Velez said the Boston-based First Wind, which operates seven wind farms across the country, produces 504 megawatts in total.
“This is not an experiment for us. It’s not a side gig,” he said. “We’re not an oil company looking to get in on this renewable energy thing.”
The Brimfield Wind project is proposed at between eight and 10 turbines, but the final number and the size of the turbines is not yet determined.
“I can’t tell you how many turbines, I can’t tell you the size. It depends on a lot of things,” he said. Among the variables are Federal Aviation regulations, wetland issues, soil and visibility issues and the wind analysis. “It may be eight. It may be nine. We don’t know yet.”
He showed a photo illustration of West Mountain with eight turbines, spaced out and rising high above the ridgeline, but he cautioned it was just a composite because the numbers and locations of the turbines was still up in the air. “Why do they have to be so high? Because that’s where the wind is,” he said.
The project is two years away from construction – and that is if the terrain is considered suitable, and if it gains approval from town voters and the state, he said. It would need to go before a town meeting for First Wind to be given permission to proceed.
Clarke said Governor Patrick’s bill that would streamline the process for siting wind turbines would not remove local communities from having a say in any project. “If the town doesn’t want it and says no, then it’s no,” he said.
The bill was stalled Monday when Sen. Michael Knapik, R-Westfield, objected to it during an informal session of the senate, when one senator can block a bill.
Velez said each turbine would need three to five full-time employees to keep it running. First Wind would also hire local contractors to help prepare the land and build the towers.
First wind has also had preliminary talks with the selectmen about a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement where First Wind would pay the town $7,000 per megawatt of electricity produced, which could add up to $140,000 to $170,000 in annual payments to the town.
“This is a big deal for the town and it’s a big deal for the state and country and you are at the leading edge of it.”
Fearing said he came to the meeting because he had several questions, but they were not answering any. He said he objects to the whole project being in the works for two years and no one in Brimfield knowing about it until a few months ago.
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