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Selectmen to decide fate of Madaket wind turbine project  

Credit:  By Jason Graziadei, I&M Senior Writer, The Inquirer and Mirror, www.ack.net 9 December 2011 ~~

The proposed Madaket wind turbine is headed for an up-or-down vote of the selectmen on January 4, when the board will decide whether to forge ahead with the ambitious project, or heed the concerns of some west end residents urging the town to scrap the plan.

After several years of planning, proponents from the Energy Study Committee and the town’s Energy Office were preparing to seek a warrant article for the 2012 Annual Town Meeting to appropriate up to $3.45 million to build the 900 kilowatt turbine.

But in the face of unexpected and strong resistance from Madaket residents, the board decided Wednesday night to schedule a vote on January 4th on whether to proceed with the project.

With the proposal currently before the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Energy Study Committee was seeking legal representation from town counsel to help it shepherd the project through the regulatory process and overcome potential appeals. But several selectmen, including Bob DeCosta and Rick Atherton, appeared ready to tap the brakes and decide first whether the town should continue pursuing the project.

“We need to discuss as a board whether we want to continue down this road of building a turbine before we start spending legal dollars and fighting neighbors,” DeCosta said. “I feel like this thing is getting shoved down my throat.”

Selectman and Energy Study Committee member Whitey Willauer claimed last week that the group of Madaket homeowners opposed to turbine project had raised $50,000 to fight the proposal, which he had anticipated would sail through the ZBA hearings on its request for a waiver from height restrictions and property setbacks in the unlikely event of a turbine collapse.

“We were told it was going to be a slam dunk,” Willauer said of the ZBA hearings. “We got in there and all of Madaket had marshaled their resources and hired a lawyer and it wasn’t a slam dunk. I know they have a war chest of $50,000 for this situation.”

On Wednesday, attorney Arthur Reade revealed he had been hired by a group called Common Sense Nantucket, which he described as a citizen advocacy group which had formed to oppose the wind turbine project.

With so much at stake ahead of the 2012 Town Meeting, the Energy Study Committee has already decided seek a continuance at the next ZBA meeting to resolve the outstanding questions, and postponed a scheduled information session.

The turbine, which would be twice the size of the 100kw model already operating at Nantucket High School, would power the town’s solid waste facility at the landfill, including the energy-sucking compost digester machine that is the cornerstone of the island’s heralded recycling program.

Project proponents believe the turbine could save the town as much as $400,000 annually in utility costs with a clean, renewable energy source based on Nantucket rather than the mainland, setting the stage for a sustainable energy future in which the island could once again produce its own power.

Attempting to frame the debate on the economics of the project rather than the environmental considerations, the Energy Study Committee has espoused the belief that the turbine would mitigate the possible necessity of an expensive third undersea electric cable from the mainland to Nantucket, and free up some of the $1.8 million the town spent on electricity costs last year.

As a municipal energy project, it does not require a special permit from the Planning Board, and voters at the 2011 Town Meeting gave overwhelming support to an article which expanded the potential uses of the landfill property to include the development of wind energy.

While the resistance in Madaket appears to be coming from a small but vocal group of homeowners, selectman Rick Atherton said last week that there was wider opposition to the project, and told the committee that it should seek the support of the board before proceeding with its application to the ZBA.

“I think there will be a time when moving forward on the wind turbine has broader public support than you have now,” Atherton said. “It’s not just a few folks in Madaket who are concerned. Those concerns can be overcome, but my own sense is we’re not there yet.

“This is not only an energy policy issue,” he said. “It’s a political issue.”

Another major renewable energy project for Nantucket that had appeared to be on the verge of moving forward is also in doubt. A proposed 1 megawatt solar photovoltaic installation covering eight to 10 acres of vacant land along the southern airport fence near Madequecham Valley Road may not be feasible, Airport Commission member Art Gasbarro told the Energy Study Committee.

Lanco Solar International, a subsidiary of the Indian company Lanco Infratech Limited, was one of three companies to respond to the airport’s request for proposals for the solar energy project, and its proposal was recommended by airport consultant Robert Patterson as the most competitive and advantageous.

But Gasbarro and Sinatra both believe that upon closer inspection, Lanco’s proposal is likely unacceptable due to an overly ambitious permitting timeline, and a reliance on government incentives that expire at the end of 2011. There are a number of other issues that would make the airport solar installation more complicated than previously believed, from endangered species to potential impacts on the airport’s radar system, and the necessity of the Federal Aviation Administration signing-off on the project.

“There are significant concerns with the Lanco proposal that have been raised that are probably insurmountable,” Gasbarro said. “It’s not as simple as it was presented.”

During an Airport Commission subcommittee meeting on Monday, commission chairman Dan Drake said there were outstanding questions about the effectiveness of the solar installation, and whether it could really save the airport upwards of $300,000, or would issues such as fog, pollen, salt spray and bird droppings combine to decrease the potential savings. The permitting issues involving the endangered species on airport property, as well as the FAA’s questions about the impact on pilots and radar, were other major hurdles, Drake said.

More information about the projects is available at the town’s web sites, www.ackenergy.org, and www.madaketwind.org

Source:  By Jason Graziadei, I&M Senior Writer, The Inquirer and Mirror, www.ack.net 9 December 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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