BREWSTER – By the numbers
Number of turbines: 2
Cost to build: $100,000
Savings to town: $3.6 million
Are the town’s proposed twin wind turbines a headache inducing financial boondoggle or are they safe as milk?
Selectman Greg Levasseur and Maggie Downey of Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, which would own and maintain the turbines, fielded questions served up via note cards Wednesday evening at Brewster Ladies’ Library. They were seldom at a loss for words and cleared up questions on just who was responsible for what and what the town and co-op hope to gain.
There are 19 members of the cooperative, including Brewster, Orleans, Harwich, Eastham and Chatham. The co-op was formed to take advantage of federal funding for renewable energy projects built by rural electric co-operatives. The funding comes from the U.S. Agriculture Department and the turbine construction and maintenance reportedly won’t cost Brewster anything.
The town hopes to benefit by $3.6 million in savings for electricity (the project will supply all of Brewster’s needs at a below market cost) and lease payments ($1.5 million over 15 years). The cooperative will pay $50,000 per turbine.
Downey said a request for proposals has gone out and pending permit approvals construction could begin in September with the turbines up and running by the fall of 2012.
The turbines will be built off Freeman’s Way, near the water department and Captains Course driving range in Commerce Park. They will stand 410 feet high (including the 145-foot blades) and cost the co-op nearly $5 million apiece to build and maintain. Half of the power produced is allocated to Brewster; the rest will be sold into the grid.
“This will bring Brewster closer to green community status, which opens the door to other grants,” noted Downey. “It will lower Brewster’s carbon footprint by 5,250 tons.”
The goal is to produce 6,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.
“Once their useful life is over, CVEC is responsible for dismantling the turbines,” Downey said in answering concerns.
There are only seven homes within a half mile of the turbines and 175 within a mile. The turbines are in a relatively empty corner of town. Audible noise would rise 1 to 5 decibels at the property line and less than 4 decibels at the nearest neighbor’s home. Both of those levels are within town bylaws.
However, concerns have been raised about infra-sounds (sub-sonic).
“There is no evidence of health effects arising from infra-sound,” Downey declared. “Infra-sound is all around us from waves hitting the shore, to refrigerators and washing machines.”
People worried about real estate values. Would the town cover potential losses?
“There is no evidence of an effect on the value or sale of property,” Downey said. “I’ve heard anecdotal but I can’t work in that world. I have to work in the world of concrete facts.”
Members of the audience disagreed but Levasseur added such effects are nearly impossible to tease out.
He also corrected the idea that the entire property was being leased to CVEC. It is only the land the turbines will stand on and the road to them. No other turbines elsewhere are planned.
Questions have risen about interference to the signal of radio station WFCC, which broadcasts from a nearby tower.
“To date, representatives from WFCC have not met with the town of Brewster. It’s not for lack of trying,” Levasseur said.
He said Brewster would save from $60,000 to $80,000 a year in electricity costs.
“We went through the same thing with cell phone towers. People were worried about radiation. Due to the towers, Brewster doesn’t have any phone bills. It leases them for $70,000 a year. That pays all of the phone bills. It’s all about saving tax dollars.”
People wondered how Brewster would monitor issues pertaining to the turbines (ask the selectmen, Levasseur said); whether residents would see any of these tax savings; why nearby towns weren’t consulted; and where was the Cape Cod Commission?
The project doesn’t require a commission review; the project was proposed by Brewster, not other towns; and at least theoretically money saved is money not spent (or taxed).
The format didn’t allow for a lot of give and take but people found out how long the contract was (20 years); the Brewster turbines would be CVEC’s first (Harwich voters rejected the idea) but the co-op has installed 700 kw of solar panels on schools in Brewster, Eastham, Bourne, Harwich and Barnstable.
People have complained about the Falmouth turbine at its wastewater plant.
“The Falmouth turbines are operating as they should but they are older technology,” CVEC consultant Liz Argo explained. “That is the difference between the Falmouth turbines and the ones we’re planning for Brewster.”
Why are we sacrificing seven residents?
“There is no sacrifice that is going on here,” Argo replied.
The turbines will shut down if winds blow over 55 mph and can withstand a Category 4 hurricane. Data on the turbine’s effect on birds is available on the CVEC Web site.
No doubt there will be more questions and the planning board will continue its permitting hearing Jan. 12 at 7 p.m.
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