REGIONAL – While opponents of a wind tower on the hill behind Wachusett Regional High School are in court fighting installation of a 196-foot test tower, school officials have scrapped that idea and instead are installing a five to six-foot sonic device to glean the same information.
School Superintendent Thomas Pandiscio said Jan. 24 that the district has accepted the bid of $74,840 from Jericho Mountain Wind Company to set up the SODAR (sonic detection and ranging) meteorological instrument that measures the scattering of sound waves by atmospheric turbulence.
“The engineers came up with it,” Pandiscio said of Places Site Consultants, Inc. of Holden. He said the small SODAR tower will require the same amount of brush and tree clearing as the 196-foot tower needed, but can be installed in a fraction of the time, all at “pretty much the same cost.
“There’s no noise associated with it,” he said. “It sends up a sonic signal, like radar. It’s a little pyramid-type device and it runs by solar power.”
Pandiscio said Holden Growth Management Director/Building Inspector Dennis Lipka says the testing device doesn’t need a permit, as the 196-foot test tower requires.
On June 24, two dozen residents from the Avery Heights area attended the zoning board of appeals public hearing on the wind test tower special permit. The ZBA unanimously approved the permit to erect a 196-foot tower on the high school’s upper track area, an area engineers believe may be ideal to build a wind tower that would supply all the school’s electrical needs.
In a presentation to the Wachusett Regional School District Committee last February, Places Site Consultants, Inc. engineer William Murray said with the right wind conditions, a 390- to 400-foot tower, including blades, could supply the school’s entire power needs, inside and out. The school spends approximately $250,000 annually on electricity, and Murray said the school could sell excess power generated if it installs a wind tower of the size erected in Princeton a couple of years ago.
Neighbors who spoke at the June 24 ZBA hearing said they weren’t taking issue with the 196-foot temporary test tower, but with the full-sized wind tower that would replace it.
On July 2, 16 households on Jennifer Drive, Avery Heights Drive, Britney Drive and Courtney Drive appealed the ZBA decision in Worcester Superior Court. The suit argues that the high school test tower is not a “scientific research of development or related production” facility, and does not fall under the ZBA special permit guidelines.
The suit maintains the meteorological tower “whose only purpose is to determine whether it is suitable to construct another structure [wind turbine] which cannot be built under the existing bylaw, is unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”
Jennifer Drive resident John Mavricos, who is an attorney, told ZBA members that the school district’s special permit request for the meteorological tower doesn’t satisfy the legal requirement that the tower be necessary for the school.
“A wind turbine is a power plant – it is not permitted in an R-2 residential district,” he said.
Lipka noted that a lot of potential sites don’t pan out.
“You’ve got to get the data,” he said, before any decision is made about installing a wind tower. “One out of three studies determines that a site is good for a wind tower. Too much wind is not good, variable speeds – gusting – is not good. The height of a wind tower is all subject to the data. There are a number of variables to consider.”
The ZBA approved the permit with several conditions recommended by Lipka. The district may request an extension of the 12-month data collection period, and remove the tower within 30 days after the data collection is concluded.
Since the SODAR equipment requires no town permit, the district has no such restrictions, but Pandiscio said they still plan on collecting wind data for a year.
Following the June 24 hearing, Lipka had doubted there would be much basis to appeal the ZBA decision.
“It would be difficult to stop data collection,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who’s appealed a meteorological tower to collect data.”
Pandiscio said this week that he’s heard no news of the pending superior court case.
“We decided to go ahead and award the SODAR contract, which doesn’t require a [town] permit,” he said, “and let the suit go wherever it goes.”
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