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Lenox wind-power study panel to meet Thursday

LENOX – In the aftermath of a site tour and high-drama meeting earlier this month, tempers cooled though differences remained at the Wind Energy Research Panel’s most recent session.

The six-member town committee moved toward common ground on the two key issues surrounding a potential municipal wind-turbine installation atop Lenox Mountain.

Several proponents and opponents agreed that energy-cost savings for the town along with the impact on the environment and surroundings are the major pivot points.

The panel is scheduled to reconvene this Thursday at 6 p.m. in Town Hall.

In an effort to soothe ruffled feelings, panel moderator Kenneth Fowler urged members to “do their due diligence and bring to the meetings materials and facts that support their particular opinion. Civility and respect for the opinions of others are required for the credibility of this panel.”

Most of the calm, two-hour gathering last Thursday was devoted to a detailed presentation by Dan Ingold, senior technical director for Weston Solutions Inc. Last spring, the alternative-energy firm identified Lenox Mountain as a “viable” site for one or two turbines.

Ingold detailed the pros and cons of wind-turbine sites he has worked on, emphasizing that he has recommended against some installations, including “utility scale” projects such as Hoosac Wind in the town of Florida, because he considered them too big.

“I really have a problem with 12 turbines or more,” he said, citing a preference for municipal projects that range from one to 10 turbines.

Projects he identified as favorable include a recently rebuilt, relocated municipal two-turbine site in Princeton, a hilltown in Worcester County.

Hurdles that were overcome there included road construction issues at the site and “ice throws” – chunks that can be scattered by buildups on revolving blades.

A dual-turbine installation in Falmouth on Cape Cod encountered significant noise issues, Ingold said, with some residents in the densely populated area contending that their health had been affected.

“Shame on Falmouth, they didn’t do a noise study beforehand,” said Ingold. “Now they’re paying a price. From my standpoint, lesson learned.”

“I’m going to strongly, strongly recommend that you do an acoustic study here,” Ingold told the panel members.

He urged installation of a temporary, nearly 200-foot meteorological tower near the potential site along the Lenox Mountain ridge line to precisely measure available wind speeds.

“I like putting it up,” he explained, “because now people see something that’s tall there. You get the feedback that it’s unacceptable at that height, or it’s not so bad.”

The Weston Solutions official also acknowledged that the heavily wooded area presents access challenges, since it would require alterations and disruption to Reservoir Road and a trail known as Dunbar Road.

Under questioning from alternate panel member Jo Anne Magee, a project opponent, Ingold explained that “heavy-duty bulldozers would be involved to clear the way for construction traffic. It’s going to have a significant impact.”

“For me, the No. 1 point of the whole project is economics,” declared panelist Eric Vincelette, a member of the Finance Committee who leans in favor of the project.

“We know there are road issues, everybody loves the mountain. That’s why we’re all spending our time here. The bottom line is what are we saving and what are we paying out and, at the end, what’s the positive cash flow that the town is keeping.”

Vincelette advocated a more detailed financial analysis. “If this town isn’t saving money, we have no interest in ripping up roads and blasting,” he said.

“Is this really green?” asked project opponent Christopher Magee. “If we aren’t doing anything good for the environment, and we have some noise-problem potential, why do it even if it makes a little money. But I agree, money matters, it really does.”

He called for data on the reliability and durability of the turbines, since potential failures would affect the bottom line for the town.