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NORTHBOROUGH – A long-anticipated study deals a blow to the town’s hope of constructing a wind turbine, saying that although one could be installed it likely wouldn’t be worth the hassle.
“A community wind project for the town of Northborough is technically feasible, but (the) economic benefits are marginal,” concludes the study, conducted by Sustainable Energy Developments of Ontario, N.Y.
“The prospect for economic viability of the project is hampered by a number of factors,” it says, the most significant of which is the fact that there isn’t as much wind power as had been anticipated.
“(We) were hoping for more wind,” said Town Engineer Fred Litchfield said of the “rather dismal” data collected.
With an $85,000 grant made possible by the state’s Wind Incentive Program, the town contracted Sustainable Energy Developments last May to erect a meteorological tower to measure the wind speeds at Tougas Family Farm on Ball Hill.
The tower collected wind speeds for a year, coming down this summer. Litchfield said it recorded average speeds of about 5.5 meters per second – about half a meter per second slower than the Wind Committee had hoped.
Because the wind speed provides only a “low to moderate” resource, the study concludes that high capital costs – most notably the cost of connecting the turbine to the grid with heavy wires – reduce its economic return.
The report analyzed six possible turbines of varying sizes at three basic locations – Tougas Farm, Davidian Brothers Farm and Mt. Pisgah.
A small turbine near the meteorological site at Tougas Farm would cost $2.23 million to build and would take 15.3 years before the energy savings caught up to the price of the turbine, the study says.
“The problem is the life expectancy of the units is not much longer than the payback period,” said Litchfield.
The most economically feasible option, the study suggests, is to build a large turbine on Mt. Pisgah that would be 410 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the rotor. The turbine would cost $6.22 million, would pay for itself in 9.6 years and would save $7.35 million in energy costs over 20 years.
“However, this location may be the most controversial of those considered as significant construction would be required to install a wind turbine in what is viewed as a critically important conservation and public recreation area,” Sustainable Energy Developments wrote.
The company said the two other leading spots – Davidian Brothers Farm and an area near Tougas Farm that is actually in Boylston – might be less controversial but would need to be “carefully developed” to minimize impact on nearby homes.
“While the challenges at either of these sites can be overcome, the anticipated economics generated by a single turbine project may not be sufficient to justify the investment.”
Green Street resident Jonathan West, one of a number of neighbors opposed to the project, said he was pleased to hear the results of the study yesterday.
“A wind turbine has no place in a residential setting,” he said, pointing to the town of Falmouth – which recently shut down its wind turbines after neighbors complained of migraines, vertigo and sleep disruption.
“That (Falmouth) turbine is even further back from residences than the proposed turbine at Tougas,” he said.
West said he doesn’t understand why the town isn’t looking at solar energy as a cheaper and less dangerous alternative. He criticized the town for what he characterized as apathy to neighbors’ concerns.
“The town never approached anybody about this. They never held a public hearing in the course of three years, and they haven’t even responded to letters,” he said.
Wind Committee co-Chairman Joseph McNamara said yesterday he would like to review the study in detail before commenting on its implications.
Litchfield said the an Sustainable Energy Developments representative will be at the Wind Committee’s meeting on Jan. 11 in the selectmen’s meeting room. The meeting starts at 7 p.m., and the public will be given a chance for comment.
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