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Latest turbine project adds to Windy City

GARDNER – It is still called the Chair City because of its furniture-making history, but the name Windy City might better define Gardner today.

If plans continue to move forward, the city may soon have five wind turbines within its borders to generate electricity from the air.

City Planner Robert L. Hubbard said the city expects to receive approval in the next month of its plans to build a wind turbine at the Summit Industrial Park off Route 101 near the Ashburnham line.

The 392-foot-tall turbine would be the fifth of its kind, giving Gardner more large turbines than any other community in Central Massachusetts. Two have been erected at Mount Wachusett Community College, and work is nearing completion to allow the school to begin generating electricity. Two more are in the beginning stages of construction at North Central Correctional Institution on Chapel Street.

“This would be the same kind as the two at the college and the two at the prison,” Mr. Hubbard said.

The Vestas V82 1.65-megawatt wind turbines are each capable of generating 5.9 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

The turbine at the industrial park would be owned by the city and built on land owned by the Gardner Redevelopment Authority. The authority is an independent economic development agency created to promote industrial and commercial development in the city. It owns and operates the Summit Industrial Park.

The wind turbine would cost about $4.18 million. Mr. Hubbard said it would generate enough electricity to handle all of the city’s electrical power needs. The cost, he said, would be paid back in 7.3 years. Once the project is paid off, the city could see a savings of $600,000 per year.

Mr. Hubbard said the college received some of its wind turbine money through congressional earmarks, but he does not believe that type of funding will be available this year, given the current mood of Congress.

“It doesn’t appear to be a year for earmarks,” he said.

Instead, he said, the city will seek about $900,000 total in grants from the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant money would reduce the payback time to less than 7.3 years.

Mr. Hubbard said the industrial park is a nearly ideal site. It is 2,000 feet from the nearest residence, reducing the types of problems faced in building turbines in more thickly settled areas. The wind in the area is more than adequate to generate electricity.

He said the only drawback was that although the Gardner Redevelopment Authority site has 20 acres, based on wind measurements, the place where the wind turbine would be erected eliminates the ability of the city to put up a second wind turbine.