LENOX – The town’s new Wind Energy Panel convenes its first public meeting on Monday to schedule visits to a potential turbine site atop Lenox Mountain and begin researching the pros and cons of a feasibility study prepared by the alternative-energy firm Weston Solutions, Inc., of Concord, N.H.
The study claims that one or two municipal turbines could produce significant energy for town buildings and taxpayer savings.
“We intend to be fair and equitable,” said the committee’s moderator, Selectman Kenneth Fowler. He is a non-voting overseer of the panel composed of three members who lean toward the potential project and three who lean against it.
“The process will have a beginning, middle and end,” Fowler added, since the Select Board has asked for a report by Jan. 15.
The meeting is scheduled to take place Monday morning at 8 in Town Hall.
Weekly public meetings of the panel are expected.
The group’s mission is to gather data, examine research and discuss factual information specific to the Lenox Mountain location, rather than the plusses and minuses of wind energy in general.
The Weston Solutions study completed last spring can be viewed on the town’s website at www.townoflenox.com.
It concluded that at an elevation of 1,800 feet above sea level on the westward-facing ridge line, one or two 265-foot turbines could produce anywhere
from 3,130 to 12,200 megawatt hours of energy per year based on typical wind speeds of 14 to 15 mph at the site.
However, there are strong political headwinds against the proposal from a citizens’ group, PreserveLenoxMountain.org, which held a forum Thursday evening at the Lenox Community Center attended by at least 100 area residents.
The guest speaker, Green Berkshires Inc. President Eleanor Tillinghast of Mount Washington, delivered a one-hour, wide-ranging attack on wind power in general and the proposed Lenox site in particular. She suggested that energy conservation by homeowners would be more effective.
Fowler said the committee has held an informal get-together to discuss the “rules of engagement, how we’re going to allow information to be brought into the meeting and try to give it credibility.”
“There’s so much misinformation out there,” Fowler said. “We want to make sure the panel makes a determination based on credibility.”
But the sessions will be an open forum, he stressed, geared toward “a lively exchange of ideas. We want everyone to be able to have their point of view brought across, whether it’s Eleanor Tillinghast or Weston Solutions.”
In addition to visiting the Lenox Mountain site, the panel intends to scope out the Berkshire Wind Project’s 10 turbines atop Brodie Mountain in New Ashford and to meet with nearby residents.
Asked about the credibility of the Weston Solution study since that company is a prospective developer of a turbine project, Fowler asserted that “even though they’re bringing the project to us, that doesn’t mean their study is accurate, so it would have to be looked at.”
“If we were to proceed with a project, we would put it out to bid for other companies,” he said.
An extensive permitting process would be required if the proposal is presented to Town Meeting voters next May and approved.
The installation would require compliance with the Scenic Mountain Act, with wetlands-protection laws, building and fire codes, a special permit for construction and expected reviews by state agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration because of a possible impact on long-range radar.
The town would finance the project through a $5.3 million, 20-year municipal bond. Anticipated annual operating and maintenance costs would be $50,000.
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