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Lenox wind turbine study in gear

LENOX – The six-member town committee created to research and report to the Select Board whether a potential municipal wind-turbine project on Lenox Mountain should be submitted to voters is churning at high speed following its first meeting.

Committee members and any interested members of the public will tour the site at the corner of Reservoir and Dunbar Roads beginning at 1 this afternoon; the panel will then meet at Town Hall to discuss their findings.

Committee members who support and oppose the project, evenly divided at three in each camp, staked out their territory at the early-morning meeting on Monday, listing the potential benefits of the project and compiling a long list of environmental impacts and safety concerns.

The issues that panel members want to explore are based on the site study by alternative-energy company Weston Solutions, Inc., submitted to the town last May. The report described a westward-facing ridge line near the summit of the 1,900 mountain as “viable” for one or two 262-foot-high turbines that could produce enough energy to power town buildings.

Non-voting moderator Kenneth Fowler, a Select Board member, described the panel as “one of the most important committees we’ve formed.”

“This is a tough job for us,” he acknowledged.

Panel member Channing Gibson, a Lenox resident and a former Hollywood-based TV and film producer who leans against wind-turbine projects, emphasized the importance of “knowing what’s going to happen at the site up there, who controls it.”

“When somebody else is in charge, are they going to be in charge of fire, liability… If roads are destroyed in the process of building the thing, who’s going to be in charge of that?” he asked. “Those are big concerns.”

“Looking broadly across different projects at different sites, you learn different things about different issues that might be important to us,” said Jo Anne Magee, an alternate committee member. Her husband, MIT professor Christopher Magee, is a panel member who was unable to attend on Monday.

Among the key issues committee members identified are the impact on neighboring communities, the pros and cons of municipal ownership versus leasing turbines from a private developer, and whether the specifics in the Weston Solutions report are reliable.

“I see numbers in the Weston report that just don’t compute,” Gibson declared. “We’ve got to vet it out. I want to make sure the benefits are discussed very clearly.”

He also cited environmental and safety issues – fire, lightning, interference with FAA electronics, ice throw, noise, road impact stemming from construction, proximity to residents, the effects on Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and the watershed – as well as potential fallout affecting property values and tourism.

“An important piece is economic benefits, understanding where we are as a town in terms of our own finances, the economics of the project and how it might eventually benefit our town and the alternative,” said Eric Vincelette, a wind-energy supporter who’s also on the Lenox Finance Committee.

Fowler wanted to insure “adequate public input” in the discussion.

“I think we’ve learned that lesson,” he said.

Members of the committee discussed other turbine sites that might be visited, including Brodie Mountain and Jiminy Peak, Falmouth on Cape Cod and Princeton, in Worcester County near Leominster.

“It’s really critical that the projects visited be similar in nature,” suggested Adele Gravitz, the town’s sustainability coordinator.

“I want to make sure we’re looking at municipal projects, not 30-turbine wind farms,” said Jamie Cahillane, a wind-energy proponent who is a member of the Lenox Environmental Committee. “We want to compare apples to apples.”