DARTMOUTH – The Select Board voted unanimously Monday night to terminate plans for two municipal wind turbines on town land off Chase Road, drawing applause from more than 30 residents of the neighborhood who were opposed to the project.
Executive Administrator David G. Cressman told the board that two recent agreements to purchase 8.32 megawatts (MW) of electricity from solar energy farms in Dartmouth promised a better financial return for the town than investing in the commercial wind turbines.
Cressman said the two agreements are expected to deliver $13.3 million in savings for Dartmouth over the next 20 years, while the changing financial figures for the turbine project promised only $3 million to $5 million in savings for the town.
State law concerning net metering production also limits municipalities from generating more than 10 MW of power a year, he noted. The town’s current annual consumption is about 10.3 MW per year, he indicated.
Borrego Solar Systems will sell the town 1.44 MW of electricity at eight cents per kilowatt from an installation on leased land at the landfill off Russells Mills Road, with potential savings of $2.9 million over 20 years; EMI Dartmouth Solar will sell the town 6.88 MW of power at 9.9 cents per kilowatt from a farm planned for Energy Park in North Dartmouth, generating possible savings of $10.4 million over 20 years.
With those two agreements in place, “there’s no real benefit financially for the town from the wind turbine project,” Mr. Cressman told the Select Board. “I see no real purpose in carrying on with the wind project.”
The prospect of a cancelled project raised the hopes of the 45 families who banded together as Dartmouth Citizens for Responsible Energy (DCRE) to oppose the proposed turbine locations, including the filing of a Superior Court suit to block the project.
The group spent two years and thousands of dollars trying to convince town officials that the site was too close to residential areas and posed too many threats to the health and safety of residents, said DCRE spokesman Jeanne Nesto.
“It’s been a long two years for us,” Ms. Nesto noted after Monday night’s vote, shedding tears of joy. “As we began educating ourselves, the more fearful we became” of negative health impacts for those living near commercial turbines, she said.
The group is not opposed to wind power, but is convinced “large-blade turbines should not be located next to residential zones” because of health concerns, she added.
Health concerns and the shrinking financial return from the turbine project helped convince the board to scrap the plans, said Select Board Chairman Michael Watson. The potential benefits of the turbine installation versus solar farms “was not even close,” he suggested.
Board member Joseph Michaud noted that continuing changes in net metering regulations meant “the lower and lower the savings were going to be” from the proposed turbines. He said the board “spent hundreds of hours exploring the potential health and safety problems,” making solar power seem like a better option for the town.
Member William Trimble said he thought “it was a good project at the time,” and still believes turbines would be feasible at the site. He asked what kind of permitting process would be needed if some other entity, such as UMass Dartmouth or another municipality, wanted to pursue the project there.
Board member Lara Stone read a letter from the town’s Alternative Energy Committee that indicated it believes turbines are “the most efficient and cost effective forms of solar energy,” but supported the Select Board decision to cancel the project.
When the town started the project, “it made sense; now, it doesn’t make sense,” Ms. Stone suggested. Now, solar power is clearly the better option for the town, she believes.
“You’ve got to love solar power,” she added, as it provides clean energy plus a hefty financial benefit for the town. A bonus is providing a worthwhile use for the capped landfill, she said.
“I hope this town continues to be on the cutting edge of creating renewable energy resources,” Ms. Stone added.
Member Shawn McDonald noted the turbine project became “an issue that could have split this town down the middle.” He commended both sides for conducting themselves with respect for the opposition party during the sometimes-heated debate.
As for the opposition, Ms. Nesto said DCRE “will be watching” both the Chase Road site and a proposed commercial turbine project on Smith Neck Road to help ensure the health and safety of residents are not threatened.
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