NANTUCKET – Next month selectmen will decide whether to forge ahead with the Madaket wind turbine or heed the concerns of some residents urging the town to scrap the plan.
Proponents from the Nantucket 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 to schedule a vote on Jan. 4 on whether to proceed with the project.
The energy study committee was seeking legal representation from town counsel to help it shepherd the project through the regulatory process. 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.”
Last week selectman and energy study committee member Whitey Willauer said that a group of Madaket homeowners had raised $50,000 to fight the proposal. Willauer said he had anticipated a request for a waiver from height restrictions and property setbacks for the turbine would sail through a zoning board of appeals hearings.
“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.”
Attorney Arthur Reade said Wednesday that he has been hired by a group called Common Sense Nantucket, described as a citizen advocacy group formed to oppose the wind turbine project.
The turbine, which would be twice the size of the 100-kilowatt model operating at Nantucket High School, would power the town’s solid waste facility at the landfill, including the energy-sucking compost digesting 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.
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. He told the committee that it should seek the support of the board before proceeding with its application to the zoning board of appeals.
“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.”