LENOX – Following interviews with seven of the nine applicants for the six-member super committee charged with researching a potential municipal wind-turbine installation atop Lenox Mountain, the Select Board hopes to unveil the membership of the group at its meeting on Wednesday.
Intense, organized opposition to the proposed site already has surfaced, and the possible project shapes up as a major flashpoint in town over the next few months.
The super committee – dubbed the Wind Energy Research Panel – will consist of three supporters and three opponents of a possible site on the westward-facing ridge near the Richmond town line. Two more interviews are still pending.
It is slated to report its findings by Jan. 15 for review by the Selectmen. An extension of the deadline may be granted, if needed.
The panel’s goal is to “identify and research the most current understanding of the impacts, both positive and negative, of the Lenox Wind Turbine project,” according to a mission statement the Select Board approved at its most recent meeting.
The panel, to be moderated by Selectman Kenneth Fowler, would lay the groundwork for public forums to debate the potential site prior to any proposal that might be submitted to town meeting voters next spring.
A $90,000 study funded by the town and prepared by Weston Solutions, a global green energy firm with regional headquarters in Concord, N.H., identified a viable site for one or two turbines atop the mountain at an elevation of about 1,800 feet. The study detailed potential impacts on the surrounding area.
Weston describes itself as “a leader in environmental, sustainable, and energy solutions, property redevelopment, and design/build construction.”
A group of activist citizens, ProtectLenoxMountain.org., has been campaigning against the potential site, sponsoring film showings, speaking up at town meetings and producing extensive research on its website.
The research panel formed by the town is asked to “illuminate the site-specific issues that Lenox needs to understand in order to make an informed decision on the Lenox Wind Project.”
The six-member group also will “model civic engagement that fosters community dialogue, heals divisions and helps lead to workable solutions toward Lenox’s green energy needs,” according to the mission statement.
Marching orders for the panel, which is designated as an official town committee, include compliance with open-meeting laws by posting all sessions and opening them to the public.
“The panel will rely on an evidence-based framework as it gathers information,” the mission statement emphasized. “Scientific rigor is to be employed in evaluating information that the committee agrees to accept, the details of which the committee will develop as one of its first tasks.” Lenox wind turbine proposal: A closer look:
— Cost of a single-turbine installation: $5.3 million ($8.3 million for two).
— Annual revenue for town: $436,000.
— Annual revenue for private developer: $3.7 million.
— Typical average wind speed at site: 14-15 mph.
— Turbine height: 262 feet above ridge line.
— Projected energy production: 3,130 to 4,300 megawatt-hours per year (single turbine); 10,000 to 12,200 megawatt hours (two turbines).
— Nearest residence: About a half-mile away.
— Visible impact: Fully visible at five locations from a half-mile to four miles from site.
— Sound impact: 36-39 decibels on nearest residence, comparable to a library or normal residential setting.
— Access: Significant upgrades to existing roads necessary.
— Threats to flora or fauna at site: None.
— Impact on birds, bats: No major effects detected; further research needed.
— Wetlands: None spotted so far, pending a potential site visit by the Lenox Conservation Commission.
— Permits Required: Scenic Mountain Act compliance; wetlands protection; building and fire codes; special permit; likely review by state agencies and the FAA (possible effects on long-range radar).
— Town financing: $5.3 million, 20-year municipal bond, 4.5 percent interest.
— Annual operating, maintenance costs: $50,000.
— Positive cash flow to town: $3 million over 20 years.
Source: Weston Solutions, Inc., study, May 2011.