Establishing a wind-powered electrical generating facility in Millbury is feasible both technologically and economically.
The Board of Selectmen heard this conclusion from a report by environmental and infrastructure consultants Steve Wiebe and Johanna Nagel of Weston & Samson regarding a wind feasibility study at the Butler Farm to investigate the possibility of erecting a wind turbine on the site.
Nagel said three sites had originally been identified as possible sites for a town wind turbine—the Davidson Sanctuary, Stowe Meadows, and the Butler Farm, with the feasibility study ultimately focusing on the Butler Farm, a 50-acre property off of Singletary Road that the town purchased in 1999 for $300,000.
According to Nagel, the intent of the project was to provide a source of energy source for the town to offset its energy costs while serving as a showcase for renewable energy projects in the Blackstone Valley.
Nagel said initial testing had shown wind speeds of 6.5 meters per second at 80 meters above the ground. The site is cleared for by the FAA for a wind turbine of 410 feet high. The Butler Farm has an open field where the turbine would be sited, said Nagel and is located in an area that would allow the transportation of the components needed to assemble the turbine onsite.
Nagel said there was sufficient electrical infrastructure to deliver the energy generated to the electrical grid.
The site is not located in any area where it should impact wetlands or any other sensitive areas such as species habitats and bird migration routes. Nagel told the selectmen that a 1.8 megawatt turbine—the type the feasibility study would examine for potential installation at the Butler Farm—would have a significant impact on air pollution.
Nagel said her company hired a sound engineering company to assess the audio impact at the site. She said the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a regulation that noise from the turbine cannot increase the ambient noise level by more than ten decibels at the nearest residence.
She said it was determined that during quiet nighttime hours that the noise level at the nearest residence would rise to ten decibels. Wiebe noted the noise level can differ at different parts of the day and in relation to how the wind is blowing.
Nagel said her firm evaluated four wind turbines on behalf of the town, with the ultimate price running to over $4.6 million for a 1.8 megawatt turbine. As the cost of the turbine increased, the cost per kilowatt hour would decrease. She added that if the town could obtain the appropriate grant funding for a 20-year project, the price would go down even more.
She told the selectmen that the 1.8 megawatt turbine seemed to have the most favorable impact financially. The next step was to determine public support for the project or lack thereof, said Nagel. The town would need to examine citing criteria and bylaw changes before the final project went forward but that in the meantime the town would need to install a meteorological (met) tower at the site in order to measure wind speed and direction.
Wiebe said the tower at Holy Name was 255 feet tall; meaning the one in Millbury could be over 150 feet taller and even more powerful. He acknowledged that the type of turbine they were recommending for Millbury was a powerful piece of equipment.
Wiebe estimated the town could save 85 percent of its total kilowatt charges, though he did not know what the town’s exact total charges were. The largest turbine his firm had looked at could generate 4 million kilowatt hours. No residential customers would be part of these savings because as Wiebe pointed out, that would require generating much more electricity.
If the town installed an even larger unit, such a two megawatt turbine, it would pay for all the town accounts and still have excess energy left over, which the town could sell back to the utility in the form of energy credits.
Brad Turner of West Main Street wondered about the town’s utility bill, suggesting it could be in the millions of dollars worth of savings. Spain calculated it was actually in the hundreds of thousands. Turner said he thought that with these kinds of savings that it wouldn’t be long before it got its money back.
Robert Pearson of South Oxford Road asked how the selectmen could even be contemplating a project like this when the Planning Board has already ruled that nothing over 190 feet in height was allowed in that area. Plante said at this point the Board was merely “entertaining the issue…We don’t know where we’re going yet.”
Spain said the town was “studying it” and noted that the town had received a grant for the project. Wiebe noted it could take 8-18 years to pay for the turbine, though grants and subsidies could reduce this cost. Spain said this sort of project could help the town as moved toward becoming a green community and there were restrictions in the town’s bylaws that would have to be addressed before a tower could be constructed.
Jim Dunn of Davis Road and a member of the energy advisory committee said this study had been looked at carefully and was being funded with a grant from the Clean Energy Center, a state agency. He said, based on the results of the study, it made sense to install the met tower and measure the wind speed at different types on the tower and be sure that the site is suitable. He said there was still a need to investigate many of the things Pearson had talked about. He also said the financial aspects needed to be looked at very carefully.
Dunn said the cost of energy was going up at a rate of about 5 percent annually. Electric costs had gotten so huge in some communities that street lights were being turned off and public buildings such as libraries were operating with shorter hours.
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