December 7, 2011

Slow going for Lenox wind panel

By Clarence Fanto, Eagle Staff, The Berkshire Eagle, 7 December 2011

LENOX – With only a handful of meetings remaining before the Jan. 15 deadline for a report back to the Selectmen, the town’s Wind Energy Research Panel is trying to break out of gridlock by pairing off its members in a “speed-dating” approach to research three key issues surrounding the potential municipal wind-turbine project on Lenox Mountain.

But skepticism over chances of reaching a consensus clouded the group’s most recent meeting. At one point, panelist Eric Vincelette, a project supporter, quipped to a citizen arriving midway through the session: “You haven’t missed much.” In a rare moment of levity and unity, the entire panel erupted in hearty laughter.

“We’re not getting anywhere,” panelist Christopher Magee, a project opponent, opined at another point during the meeting.

Opening their Dec. 1 gathering, panelists spent 20 minutes debating whether to approve the highly detailed minutes of the sessions held on Nov. 10 and 17, with or without revisions proposed by several members.

“This is a transcript, these are not minutes like I’ve seen from any other organizational meeting,” complained Dr. Michael Kaplan, a pro-wind member.

“This is not like any other committee,” said Kenneth Fowler, the coordinator for the group.

“It’s your panel,” Fowler added. “If you want to spend a half-hour approving minutes Š ”

After discussing whether to transcribe the sessions from
audio recordings, alternate member Jo Anne Magee, an opponent, agreed to prepare summaries of the gatherings.

Turning to substantive issues, Fowler observed that “we’ve had lots of questions raised here. Š When I look over my notes, it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s a pro and who’s a con, there are so many concerns here. Let’s talk about where we’re going.”

He listed three major areas of concern: Impact on the mountain’s environment, possible health risks and economic benefits, if any.

Christopher Magee urged that the group work together by “pairing up by twos” with three panel-couples, one pro and one con per couple, to focus on the crucial issues and “actually do more for the town by working across these barriers a little bit.”

Panelist Jamie Cahillane, another “pro” member, questioned whether the panel is “just a study group for the next month” or whether it would make specific recommendations to the Selectmen.

“We’re never going to be done by January,” said turbine opponent Channing Gibson.

After Vincelette wondered aloud whether the Select Board is seeking a clear recommendation or simply a think-tank report, Fowler, a board member, responded: “From that think tank, I would expect a recommendation” even if that turned out to be a call for further studies.

“What’s our realistic goal, our ending? What can we realistically hope to have done four weeks from now?” asked Vincelette.

“Recommend more meetings,” replied Fowler, chuckling.

During a discussion on the potential environmental benefits of wind turbines, if any, Christopher Magee called for a presentation by independent experts.

“It is not a settled issue that this is going to do us any good for renewable energy,” he said, citing research papers claiming that a turbine installation would produce a “net loss” because storage capacity is lacking for wind-produced energy.

Finally reaching a consensus on the pairing-off approach, Jo Anne Magee – who said “breaking into smaller pieces would help us get unstuck” – and Vincelette agreed to research economics issues in depth, Christopher Magee and Kaplan will look into health impacts of turbines while Cahillane and Gibson explore the environmental impact on Lenox Mountain.

The Wind Energy Research Panel reconvenes at Town Hall on Thursday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m. to present status reports.

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