Wind power consultant Liz Argo said legal decisions are expensive and can take a long time. "Look at legal battles like Princeton (Massachusetts) where it took six years," Argo said. "Add that to the cost of turbines and that changes the financial breakdown." CVEC has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get wind projects started in towns like Barnstable, Harwich and Brewster, without any being built.
BREWSTER – The town officially put its wind turbine project on hold this week after county officials told selectmen that solar power is more economically feasible.
Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative clerk Maggie Downey said the market has improved for photovoltaic panels to the point where towns may forgo future turbine plans.
“I don’t think you’ll see any other of our member towns bringing forward a wind project,” Downey said Thursday in a phone interview with the Times.
Brewster selectmen met Monday in executive session to pick possible sites for the solar array to submit to CVEC, a regional renewable energy cooperative that includes most Cape towns and some county entities as members. CVEC is putting together a request for proposals to fund solar power installations in its membership areas.
Selectman Peter Norton, chairman of the board, later identified the approximately 100 acre town-owned Commerce Park industrial area as one of those areas. That area had also been selected as the site for two proposed 410-foot-tall wind turbines. This spring, the turbine proposal was denied a special permit from the planning board.
Although Norton called the move “investigatory,” the board did decide it would like CVEC, which was also funding the proposed wind project, to hold off on pursuing an exemption to town zoning laws for the turbines from the state Department of Public Utilities.
“If it were to turn out that the solar array is more beneficial, it would be my hope that proponents and opponents of wind turbines would support this,” Norton said Thursday.
The economic shift in favor of solar occurred when the state recently concluded negotiations on the price paid by electric utilities to get credit for including renewable energy production in their power generation portfolios, Downey said.
As part of the state Green Communities Act of 2008, power utilities must have at least 6 percent of their sales come from renewable energy in 2011. That amount increases each year until it reaches 15 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030.
The state issues renewable energy credits that allows this power source to be bought, sold and traded like stocks. In theory the price paid by utilities for these credits could be set on the open market, but the state aimed to stabilize the price to make it more attractive to investors and developers. The state recently negotiated a range of 20.5 cents to 58 cents per kilowatt hour, Downey said. She said that compares with 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for wind power.
That could dampen the enthusiasm for future wind power projects, which have been dogged with regulatory and legal battles. Opponents have criticized their size, the health effects from noise and shadows and weighed in on possible dangers of everything from ice being thrown from blades to tower collapse, all of which proponents refute.
Wind power consultant Liz Argo said legal decisions are expensive and can take a long time.
“Look at legal battles like Princeton (Massachusetts) where it took six years,” Argo said. “Add that to the cost of turbines and that changes the financial breakdown.”
CVEC has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get wind projects started in towns like Barnstable, Harwich and Brewster, without any being built. By contrast the cooperative has had success with photovoltaics including an $85 million project unveiled this spring for solar installations on capped landfills and town-owned land in seven Cape and Vineyard towns.
Even though solar power avoids many of the purported health risks of wind turbines, it is not free from controversy. The footprint of a solar installation is much larger than a wind turbine. An acre of cleared land is required to install enough photovoltaic panels to generate a megawatt of power. To get the 3.4 megawatts of power capacity represented by Brewster’s proposed twin turbines, more than 20 acres of land would have to be cleared. Approximately 50 acres of the 100-acre site is currently leased for private and municipal purposes.
Developers who respond to the CVEC request for proposals will fund the purchase and installation of the photovoltaic panels. In return, they receive tax credits and money from the sale of renewable energy credits purchased from them by the power companies at between 20.5 and 58 cents per kilowatt-hour.
If structured like the previous solar project, the new CVEC proposal would have the towns agreeing to purchase power from the developer at a relatively low cost, below the price power utilities are required to pay them for generating the electricity. Downey cited current numbers in which towns were buying solar power at seven cents but receiving 15 cents in credit from NStar for generating it.
The requests for proposals will go out Sept. 21 and are due back from prospective developers by Nov. 4. At that time, Norton said selectmen will evaluate the costs and benefits of wind and solar power and reach a decision.
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