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Green education effort ramps up; Wind turbine study continues

NORTHBORO – As the town continues to study the possibility of building a wind turbine to help offset energy costs, the town’s Wind Committee is ramping up its efforts to educate the public about clean and renewable energy.

A group of local residents has decided to apply for federal nonprofit status so it can raise money for the Wind Committee.

The group is called Northboro Friends of Renewable Energy. The group’s goal will be to raise money that the Wind Committee can use to print brochures and take other steps to educate the public about renewable energy projects – mainly, the wind project under study in Northboro.

“Up to this point, the wind turbine committee has been pretty much working out of our own pockets,” said Richard Sweeney, who is leading the Friends of Renewable Energy.

The group is in its infancy; Mr. Sweeney said members still have to define the group’s goals and apply for 501(c)3 status, so they can collect tax-deductible donations to fund the Wind Committee’s work. The Wind Committee, a town committee, cannot raise money, according to the law.

The setup will be similar to groups like Friends of the Northboro Library and Friends of the Northboro Senior Center, which raise money for the town-owned library and senior center.

Those involved with forming the nonprofit energy group in Northboro said they don’t know of any other cities or towns that have taken the same step.

“We’re just beginning, we’re just forming and trying to set our goals,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Basically, we have publicity to worry about.”

In July, a 165-foot meteorological – or met – tower was installed on Tougas Family Farm to collect wind data over the course of a year. Those data will help the town decide if a wind turbine in the same or nearby place would capture enough energy to help offset energy costs for town-owned buildings.

If studies show that a wind turbine would be an asset to Northboro, the Wind Committee will present a plan to town meeting, probably in 2012 or 2013. Committee members are planning to be well-prepared to answer any questions taxpayers may have.

The project – if it goes forward – is likely to cost about $3 million to $4 million, but the cost could be less if the town wins grant money.

“It’s too soon to say how it will be funded,” Town Engineer Frederic E. Litchfield Jr. said. “The town would be paying for this in one way or another.”

Mr. Litchfield said the town will benefit from the Wind Committee’s planned public outreach.

“Ultimately, we will have to go to town meeting for some funding, so the better the community can be educated about the wind turbine, the better off we’ll be,” he said. “As with any project, there are people that are opposed.”

Robert Giles, co-chairman of the Wind Committee, said most of the residents he has encountered are open to the project. “There are definitely a few people who are opposed, but I think they’re in the minority,” he said.

Joseph McNamara, the committee’s other co-chairman, said many people have already told him they would like to donate to the Wind Committee’s cause.

“It’s hoped that this (nonprofit group) will increase activism within the citizenry to support renewable energy, thereby saving money and improving living conditions,” Mr. McNamara said.

The town has yet to see any data from the met tower, but Mr. Litchfield said the town’s consultant, Sustainable Energy Development of Ontario, N.Y., has said wind conditions throughout the Northeast have been good for turbines this year.

“It is what we expected it would be,” Mr. Litchfield said. “It’s good, in general.”