BREWSTER – Somewhere over the rainbow lies a wind-powered Brewster town.
And so on Wednesday, 22 dignitaries journeyed by bus to view turbines in Falmouth and Portsmouth, R.I., saw them swooshing in the breeze high above a wastewater plant and a high school, and rode back beneath a brilliant arching rainbow on Interstate 95 to seek the pot of gold.
Brewster hopes to collect $100,000 per year in lease fees if the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative builds two 1.8-megawatt turbines in Commerce Park alongside the water department and the driving range for Captains Course.
On Monday, Sept. 13, selectmen will host an informational meeting for the public in town hall, 6 p.m.
“We’re still working on some of the full details (of the contract),” explained Town Administrator Charles Sumner. “But we are very far along and it will certainly be advantageous to the town from a financial perspective.”
That’s the pot of gold. CVEC estimates the twin turbines will save Brewster $3.6 million over the next 20 years. But there’s also a green dividend; the energy produced will count toward “Green Community” status, which could mean more state grants for Brewster. The cooperative will own, operate and maintain the turbines.
Brewster utilizes about 2.6 million kilowatt-hours a year and the turbines will produce about 5.5 million between them, so the town could purchase all its electricity from CVEC, since as the host town it is guaranteed 50 percent of the power at a lower-than-market cost. Forty percent of the power will be distributed between CVEC’s other 16 member towns and 10 percent goes to the Cape Light Compact.
But the turbines will have an imposing presence. They’ll stand 410 feet high to the tip of the 145-foot long blades. The nacelle, or hub of the tower where the generator is housed, is 265 feet up. CVEC expects to use a red blinking light to mark the nacelle at night. For comparison’s sake, the cell phone towers off Freeman’s Way are 262 feet and 309 feet tall.
The turbine at the Falmouth wastewater plant, affectionately known as Wind I, is a 1.65 megawatt machine, and thus stood 13-feet shorter than Brewster’s proposed pair.
“The greater the rotational sweep the more power you can anticipate,” noted Liz Argo, marketing and media consultant for CVEC who accompanied the bus group.
One concern is noise. So two selectmen (Ed Lewis and Dan Rabold), other town officials and various members of the town’s energy and finance committees and planning board, along with CVEC reps, listened intently both near and far from the blades.
The Falmouth turbine made an intermittent whoosh, like a great billowing sail. It gonged when the wind changed directions.
In Portsmouth R.I. a shorter (336-foot) turbine whistled as it swept the sky. That was due to an imperfection in the blade, which will be sanded out when the blades are inspected.
“You can’t hear it,” said a neighbor on Sequoia Lane, who leaned out her front door as the Brewster group walked through her neighborhood. “Only when it’s late at night and it’s real quiet,” she added.
She lived about 1,800 feet away, closer than the Woodlands Assisted Living Facility near Freeman’s Way and Route 39, which is the nearest neighbor to the proposed turbine site (2,100 feet away) except for a summer camp on Rafe Pond.
“That’s one reason the site was chosen,” Sumner noted. “We really don’t have significant neighbors. And it’s not in the historic district.”
The Falmouth turbine has generated noise complaints but when the Brewster tour bus parked near the homes (1,800 feet or so away) most people couldn’t hear the blades. In the winter, when the leaves are off the trees, it would be more noticeable.
Brewster will need permits to complete the deal.
“The planning board has to issue a special permit,” Sumner said. “There are no wetland issues. Another permit is the water quality review committee and there are a few others but the significant one is the planning board.”
The nearby ground will have to be cleared for the installation and the area maintained by mowing. A gravel road will be built to the site from Commerce Park Drive.
While Brewster will lease its land to CVEC, Falmouth and Portsmouth built and own their turbines. Falmouth spent close to $5 million. Its Vestas V-82 turbine was originally slated for the Orleans watershed four years ago but the town changed its mind at the last minute and Falmouth snared it. It offsets all the electricity needed to run the treatment plant, saving the town more than $375,000 a year. Combined with the planned Wind II, the turbines will handle 40 percent of the town’s load.
“We took on a huge risk and I think we were successful but we’re a large community and I think we can take on that risk,” observed Falmouth assistant town manager Heather Harper.
Portsmouth’s smaller turbine cost $4 million but thanks to a 183-foot high perch above Narragansett Bay it has generated 5 megawatts in 18 months, covering 80 percent of the town’s energy needs.
Maggie Downey of CVEC said the two Brewster turbines would cost between $9 million and $10 million to build. It has two potential finding sources.
“We’re pursing CREBs, Clean Renewable Energy Bonds,” she explained. “They are low interest bonds. They used to be zero interest, now they’re only low, near one or two percent. CREBs are allocated to coops. We are also pursuing funding from the Rural Electricity Service for a low interest loan.”
The RES is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“This will be the first turbine we have financed,” Downey said.
CVEC has already installed 900 kilowatts of solar power in eight different locations on the Cape, including both Brewster elementary schools.
“The goal is to award the turbine contract in the first quarter of 2011,” Downey said, “and to have construction begin, [which will] take nine to 18 months, so optimally we can have a renewable energy project in 2012.”
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