LENOX – The often-windswept Lenox Mountain, just over 1,800 feet above sea level, is a promising town-owned site for one or two turbines that could meet all municipal energy needs with plenty left over, according to a town-commissioned wind-feasibility study. The project would yield annual revenue of $436,000 for the town or more than $3.7 million for a private developer.
The detailed $90,000, grant-funded report was prepared by Weston Solutions, Inc., of Concord. N.H., and presented to the Select Board at a recent workshop session. Total cost for a single turbine was put at $5.3 million; a two-turbine facility would require about $8.3 million.
The wide-ranging analysis included examination of typical wind speeds at the site, averaging about 14 to 15 miles per hour; environmental impacts and permitting issues, potential effects on the community caused by generator noise and visual appearance on the ridge line, as well as financial considerations based on the amount of power that could be produced.
“Lenox Mountain appears to have an excellent wind resource…that is promising for either commercial or town-owned development,” the report concluded, based on a turbine height of 262 feet above the ridge line. The report pointed out that the mostly hilly, wooded vicinity is largely undeveloped, the nearest residence is nearly a half-mile away, and that access-road construction and “significant upgrades to existing roads” would be necessary, ideally utilizing Reservoir Road and Dunbar Road.
At eleven vantage points ranging from a half-mile to four miles from the site, a single turbine or two turbines would be fully visible at five locations. So-called shadow flicker – the shadows cast by the rotating blades of the turbine on sunny days – likely would not be an issue, the report stated.
Either for a single or dual-turbine project, the sound impact on the nearest residence would be 36 to 39 decibels, comparable to a library or a normal residential setting, according to the study.
According to Town Manager Gregory Federspiel, the next steps involve a more idetailed coustic study, followed by a series of public forums in early autumn, with in-depth presentations and guest speakers.
“Let’s have a good, engaged discussion about whether or not this makes sense,” he urged. Ultimately, voters either at a special town meeting in winter or, more likely, the annual Town Meeting in May, would decide whether to go forward.
“What we know at this point is that we have a very good site with good wind and we have a lot of electrical needs to run the town,” said Federspiel. “There are a lot of positives, and we need to make sure we’ve done a thorough job to flesh out the negatives.”
The study found no threatened flora or fauna species around the site.
So far, no major concerns for birds or bats have been detected, although further research is needed; no wetlands were spotted, though the Lenox Conservation Commission will be required to take a site walk to confirm the lack of wetlands or vernal pools.
The report identified a lengthy list of required permits, including compliance with the Scenic Mountain Act, wetlands protection, as well as building and fire codes. A special permit would be required since the town has no windmill-zoning ordinance though construction of a utility is already allowed. The Federal Aviation Administration would have to study possible effects on long-range radar; the project might need to file for review by state agencies.
Weston Solutions recommended a series of public forums because, even though Lenox is “a Green community, some concerns are likely to arise regarding noise, views and property values.”
Describing the pros and cons of town ownership versus private development, the study noted a “significant advantage for private ownership because a corporation could take advantage of many incentives for wind energy,” including a variety of tax credits.
“Under the private ownership scenario, the town would gain significant benefits for little risk,” the report concluded. Under municipal ownership, greater economic benefits would flow to the town, it added – “however, all risk would be borne by the town.”
A single turbine would produce from 3,130 to 4,300 megawatt-hours per year; two turbines would yield 10,900 to 12,200 megawatt hours. Under either scenario, more energy would be produced than used by town government and schools, allowing the sale of additional energy to other customers.
A town-owned project could be financed through a 20-year municipal bond of nearly $5.3 million at 4.5 percent interest, with annual operating and maintenance costs put at $50,000 a year. Over 20 years, the study predicted, there would be positive cash flow of just over $3 million to the town.
amounting to a net profit.
A developer, with investment partners, would pay $8.3 million, minus a 30 percent investment tax credit, the report said. A 16 percent return on investment was predicted.
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