More than three years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick set a goal for the state to have 2,000 megawatts of wind energy, enough to power 800,000 homes, by 2020.
By the end of this year, there will be enough turbines operating in the state to produce at least 30 megawatts, according to state officials. With state policy stimulating demand, the various plans to build turbines on private and public land on the SouthCoast could just be a harbinger of many more proposals in the coming years.
The state’s goal is based on megawatts, not number of turbines, but one can expect an increasing number of proposals for wind turbines, said Richard K. Sullivan Jr., the state’s secretary for energy and environmental affairs.
“The goal is to move toward clean, renewable, safe and more reliable local power sources,” Sullivan said in a recent telephone interview.
The goal remains achievable, though most of the power would have to come from offshore wind farms, said Evan Dube, director of governmental affairs and business development at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a quasi-public agency.
Onshore turbines might add up to only about a quarter of the 2,000 megawatts, he said.
“We continue to see communities and municipalities interested in wind, and certainly, we hope to see the advancement of larger-scale projects,” Dube said. “We hope to see 90 megawatts come into play just over the course of the next year.”
The 2,000-megawatt capacity is a stated goal, not a statutory requirement, but a state law called the Green Communities Act, enacted in 2008, provides support for the governor’s vision.
The law mandates public utilities to increase the amount of new, renewable energy provided to Massachusetts customers by 1 percent each year. It also requires utilities to solicit long-term contracts with developers of renewable energy projects. The latter provision helps ensure there is enough financing to make these projects economically viable, according to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
NStar recently signed contracts with developers of three wind power proposals, including one in Western Massachusetts and the rest in other New England states. The contracts would allow NStar to provide its customers with an additional 109 megawatts of wind power, bringing its total to 169, spokesman Michael Durand said.
It selected the wind farms from a total of 74 proposals that fit the criteria of its request for proposals, he said.
“Seventy-four conforming projects tell us there is potential out there for more development of wind in the region,” Durand said.
The state does not require utilities to contract with Massachusetts-based projects, just that the proposals are for renewable energy sources, environmental affairs spokeswoman Lisa Capone said.
In addition to requirements for basic service, NStar gives customers the option of supporting wind power with half or all of their electricity use by paying a premium.
“NStar is a strong supporter of renewable energy beyond the requirement that we meet certain numbers for basic service,” Durand said.
Sullivan said planned onshore turbines range from projects on private land, such as farms, to municipal proposals, some sited at wastewater treatment facilities.
“We do expect many more smaller scale projects,” he said. “To put it in perspective, we have roughly 24 onshore turbines currently.”
Critics of wind turbine projects say at least some proposals would spoil views, create a nuisance, and drive down property values. “The big point is they need to be smartly sited,” Sullivan said. “That doesn’t mean every piece of property will or should have a wind turbine.”
But he disagreed with those who contend turbines harm property values. He cited a federally funded study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which said it found no conclusive evidence of property value impacts.
Several turbine proposals are under consideration in local communities, either on municipal or private land.
For example, Dartmouth recently won a $400,000 grant from the Clean Energy Center to help with the design and construction of two 1.6 megawatt wind turbines at the municipal water treatment facility off Chase Road.
The project, whose origins predate Patrick’s initiative, would produce power that the town could sell to the electrical grid, offsetting some of its energy costs, Executive Administrator David G. Cressman said.
“The more we’re producing alternative energy, the less dependent we become on the oil companies and their major allies in countries outside of the United States,” he said.
Cressman said a limited number of locations in the town could accommodate wind turbines, in part because of a bylaw keeping them from getting too close to homes.
“I think what you’re going to see are more smaller wind turbines over time,” he said. “I don’t think you are going to see larger-scale turbines.”
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