A group of citizens that hopes to help prepare the town of Northborough voters to approve erecting a wind turbine ― and endorsing future renewable energy projects ― is expecting to be up and running as a nonprofit by the middle of October.
The Friends of Renewable Energy received notice from the Internal Revenue Service last week that review of their 501(c)(3) status was expected to be completed in 90 days, and Friends President Richard Sweeney marked his calendar accordingly.
“On day 91, we’ll have an organizational meeting,” Sweeney said.
The group has been loosely organized for more than a year in order to create bylaws and elect officers as prerequisites for getting state approval as a nonprofit. But it’s the federal approval that will give the group the boost it needs: the ability to promise donors tax-deductible status for their donations.
Until now, donations from the group’s small core of members have been helping it along as they paid application fees and organized limited publicity and materials, staffing informational booths at local town events.
After being granted tax-exempt status, the Friends will hold fundraisers, the exact nature of which Sweeney says is purely speculative at this point, though the group has many ideas for community fundraisers.
In the interim, however, Sweeney says folks shouldn’t be deterred from becoming members of the group. A $10 donation is all that is necessary to become a member of the Friends.
More will be necessary, but the group doesn’t expect to get donations or conduct fundraisers until it receives the stamp of approval from the IRS, and can then start heading toward their goals of publishing information about the project, a costly task.
“Our goal isn’t just the $10,” Sweeney said. “We’re going to need several thousand dollars.”
Getting the word out is key
Though the dollars and cents for getting the information before the public loom large just now, it’s information that is the group’s most valuable currency.
“We want to publish the truth based on sound scientific data and sound engineering principals,” Sweeney said.
Those truths, Sweeney says, should appeal to residents and counteract any misinformation that’s out there.
The scientific data Sweeney hopes will convince residents to vote for the project is being collected for the town’s wind turbine committee, which has been working on the project since 2007.
The group, now taking a summer hiatus from meetings, is expecting to meet in September to review a final report on the data collected from a temporary meteorological environmental tower (MET) erected on Tougas Farm property on Ball Street.
The meteorological tower was dedicated in August 2010 with fanfare in the presence of state and local officials, and was slated to be taken down today after nearly a year of recording the kind of data on wind and weather conditions necessary for the group conducting the feasibility study to make a sound recommendation to the town committee about whether a tower could be sited there, what size tower would work on the site, and whether the tower would meet the needs of the town.
Tougas Farm owner Maurice Tougas gave the town permission to erect the MET on his farm, which might also be the site of the wind turbine if it is judged feasible, and if voters approve it. Two other sites, at the Davidian Farm on Church Street and on Mt. Pisgah, are also being considered.
If erected, a wind turbine would provide some electricity for the town’s buildings through National Grid, which will credit the town’s electric bill for energy provided by the tower. The town currently uses about $850,000 a year to power its buildings.
While wind turbine projects are becoming more common (more than a dozen communities and more businesses in Massachusetts have similar projects), Sweeney said there is still a great deal of misinformation in voters’ minds about wind turbines.
“The reality is that the thing is non-toxic and it’s not going to kill of all the birds, it doesn’t make a lot of noise, and it’s a very economical thing to do,” he said. “It’s expensive to build, but once you start getting energy out of it, there’s no oil truck, there’s no fumes, and you can produce clean energy for the town.”
So far, Sweeney said, when the group has been able to show plans and distribute information, as they did when staffing a booth at Applefest last fall, the project has met with approval.
“Most people have been very encouraging and very favorable once they saw the plan and saw that it’s away from the center of town,” Sweeney said.
Overcoming misinformation about environmental and aesthetic aspects of the projects, though, is only half battle. The project’s costs will likely loom large in voters’ minds.
Thus far, erecting the meteorological tower hasn’t cost the town a cent: grants and technical assistance from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative have supported the erection of the meteorological tower and the production of the feasibility study with an $85,000 grant. That grant also includes funds to create a business plan.
Erecting the actual wind turbines is another story; the town’s wind turbine committee has said it is premature to speculate on the cost pending the results of the MET study and the return of the feasibility study.
But like any project that asks voters to pony up, the wind turbine committee is expecting that voters will be asking for the financial data as well on how much it will cost and how long it will take the project to pay for itself.
The project, if judged feasible to proceed, will likely come before voters for approval at the town’s annual town meeting in 2012.
Until then, the Friends group will be conducting fundraisers to support disseminating information about the project and creating a PowerPoint presentation on the benefits of the project for town meeting.
Wind turbines not the only renewable project on the horizon
While the group is focusing its energies now on the wind turbine project, they’re not expecting to close up shop once that project is finished, if approved.
“Surely there’s something else we can do to take advantage of all the green technology that’s out there,” Sweeney said.
It could be more solar panels on town buildings, like those on the town’s senior center, Sweeney said, or whatever else advancing technology suggests that could save the town money.
That’s one of the selling points Sweeney thinks will appeal to all voters, especially in tough financial times.
“Whatever we can do to reduce the expenses of the town is important to everyone who lives here,” he said.
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