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Holyoke debates the wind: power, revenue and beauty

Energy, money and the beauty of Mount Tom were among the issues officials were considering in an ongoing public hearing about whether to harness the power of wind.

The City Council Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board Tuesday decided to continue to June 28 a hearing on whether to establish an ordinance to regulate wind energy facilities.

The Ordinance Committee before that held a public hearing on a related proposal. The Holyoke Gas and Electric Department wants a special permit to build a 300-foot-tall tower that would be used to gather data about wind on Mount Tom.

Residents and others spoke about both issues at public hearings at City Hall.

James M. Lavelle, Gas and Electric Department manager, said the tower would collect information that could help officials decide whether to lease property the department owns on the mountain to wind-energy firms.

That would help the city by providing another energy source and potentially lowering rates, he said.

Lavelle also assured those who expressed concerns that building such a tower and access road would harm the mountain’s environment, animals and plants.

“We are in lock-step with them” about such concerns, he said.

Stephen M. Rosenbush said he bought a house on Northampton Street in 2009 after searching the East Coast because of the lure of Mount Tom’s beauty.

Rosenbush, who said later he was a semi-retired advertising executive who had lived in New York City, cautioned during the hearing that wind-power could be considered a trend and a poor investment that could harm a city asset.

“We can do it technologically, but is it a good idea?” Rosenbush said.

William F. Welch, of Martin Street, asked why the Gas and Electric Department couldn’t get the wind data it needed from existing telecommunications towers or an old University of Massachusetts wind turbine on Mount Tom used specifically for wind research.

“I don’t think wind has changed that much over the years,” Welch said.

Lavelle and other officials said the existing structures are only up to 200 feet high, which is too low to gather data to show private companies whether their facilities would be effective.

Joshua B. Knox of the Trustees of Reservations’ Pioneer Valley branch was among those urging a no vote on the tower request.

“We believe that the proposed project will not adequately protect the resources of Mount Tom …,” Knox said.

Still, said Kathleen G. Anderson, director of the city Office of Planning and Development, it is important that the city have wind-facility regulations regardless of the Gas and Electric Department proposal for a tower. The city is trying to increase its supply of low-cost, renewable energy because that can help in attracting new businesses and jobs, she said.

“A wind ordinance is prudent whether the (department) moves forward with a project or not,” Anderson said.