IPSWICH – Residents set the wheels in motion last night to build a second wind turbine on Town Farm Road.
Town Meeting voted 231-91 in favor of a warrant article to authorize selectmen to lease a town-owned parcel for the purpose of building a wind turbine.
The majority of the two-hour meeting was spent discussing the turbine. The first three articles of the night, miscellaneous budget amendments and a tweak to the wording of a bylaw, passed quickly and without controversy.
Last night’s vote gives the Board of Selectmen authority for the next three years to enter into a lease of town-owned land for up to 25 years for a wind turbine. It does not tie the town to a specific project or developer.
Ipswich’s first wind turbine, built in a partnership between the town utility company and public schools, was constructed on Town Farm Road through the spring and began to generate power in the last week of May.
Last night was the only opportunity for residents to have a direct voice in approval of a second wind turbine proposed for Town Farm Road, although the project must also be approved by several town boards before it can be constructed.
Ipswich Utility Department’s Electric Light Subcommittee is currently negotiating an agreement with D&C Construction of Rockland to purchase 100 percent of the power the new turbine would produce. D&C has also applied for a special permit from the Planning Board to build the turbine.
The project has proved controversial in town. Last night, people stood at the doors of Ipswich High School, passing out fliers in favor and against the turbine project to those headed into the meeting.
Several residents of North Ridge Road, which overlooks the salt marsh and existing turbine, raised questions about the project, claiming it would have a negative effect on property values.
Several people spoke in favor of delaying a Town Meeting vote on the project, saying the public does not have enough information, including specific financial figures on how much the town would pay for the power it produces.
“I don’t think we’re ready,” said Finance Committee member Richard Howard. “We don’t have a deal that we can analyze.”
The Finance Committee had voted 6-2 in favor of the wind turbine warrant article.
Howard made a motion that the wind turbine warrant article be indefinitely postponed, which failed by a vote of 92-229.
Jim Engel, a member of the Electric Light Subcommittee, said the utility had decided to consider a second wind turbine project “if and only if” its financial benefit was equal to or better than Ipswich’s first wind turbine.
Engel estimated taxes on the privately owned turbine would be $78,000 in its first year and $1 million over 20 years.
“We struggle every year to find new sources of revenue, and this happens to be a good one,” said Finance Committee member Jamie Fay.
Those in favor of the turbine project said wind power offers a much more financially stable source of power. The price of fossil fuels can fluctuate and spike, such as during Hurricane Katrina, Engel said.
“The real question is are we going to trust the people that are running the electric light plant (to negotiate a favorable deal),” resident Harvey Schwartz said. “I think we should. … Let’s keep them doing the good job (they’ve been doing).”
Residents lined up at “pro” and “con” microphones during the lengthy discussion. As the debate neared 10 p.m., the audience began to grumble and called for Moderator Tom Murphy to move the vote.
With last night’s approval, the proposed wind turbine must also receive a special permit from the Planning Board, as well as a permit from selectmen to allow the private developer to operate the turbine. A purchase-power agreement would need to be successfully negotiated with the electric subcommittee, and the selectmen, acting as electric commissioners, would need to OK the agreement.
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