Common Sense Nantucket, the group fighting the proposed Madaket wind turbine project, has agreed to meet with members of the Energy Study Committee and the town Energy Office next Tuesday, just a day before the Board of Selectmen is scheduled to vote on whether to put a funding article for the project on the 2012 Annual Town Meeting warrant.
In an colorful exchange with Madaket homeowner Doug Williams and Tom Nevers resident Barbara Carr Thursday night, committee members agreed there was room for more dialogue with members of Common Sense Nantucket, who have expressed growing alarm and skepticism of the plan for the town to build a 900 kilowatt, 324-foot wind turbine at the landfill.
Much of Thursday night’s session was spent answering questions posed to the Energy Study Committee by the opposition group.
Williams, who owns property on Fintry Lane, a side street of Eel Point Road north of the landfill, said seasonal residents with real estate in Madaket are flying in to Nantucket from around the country to attend next Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting to protest the turbine project.
“Why do you think I spent the money I did to come here?” Williams asked the committee Thursday night. “It’s an historic place, quiet and calm, and that’s why people come in the summer, which pays all of your salaries.”
In fact, the Energy Study Committee is a group of unpaid volunteers appointed by the selectmen to report on energy related issues, recommend policy and evaluate potential energy production projects for Nantucket. The staff of the town Energy Office, program and outreach coordinator Lauren Sinatra and consultant George Aronson, are paid through a grant provided by Wendy Schmidt’s philanthropic organization ReMain Nantucket.
After several years of work, the committee and the Energy Office proposed the Madaket wind turbine, which would offset municipal electricity costs and provide clean, renewable energy into the grid.
“We believe there’s going to be over $300,000 per year in savings from the project,” said committee member John Stover in response to Common Sense Nantucket’s assertion that neither electric bills nor tax bills would decrease as a result of the project. “Yes, that money might go someplace else (in government spending), but if you took $300,000 per year, this would fund $3.7 million of other capital projects without raising the tax rate a penny.”
The former radio tower at the landfill, which stood 465-feet before it was removed in May 2010, was used to gather data on the wind resources at the site, a fact which Sinatra said made the committee’s figures far more reliable than studies that used land-based measurements.
“We have some of the best wind in the world, and that’s what our capacity (numbers) are based on,” Sinatra said. “Our consultant said he’s never seen numbers as consistent and as high.”
Williams decried what he perceived as the lack of education among the Nantucket community with regards to the issues surrounding land-based turbines.
“The majority of the people on this island don’t know anything,” about it, he said. “Those of us that want to put out information from the other side are not here.”
Common Sense Nantucket is calling on the Board of Selectmen to provide so-called “property value guarantees” to all homeowners within two miles of the proposed turbine should the project go forward. Such guarantees come in the form of a controlled fund or bond that would be provided to all legitimately affected property owners should the value of their homes decrease from the pre-project home value (adjusted over time for increases in all island property values).
Williams and Carr both questioned the committee’s assertions and paid studies regarding wind resources, potential impacts on birds, noise levels and the pro forma developed for the project by Aronson.
Carr also decried the potential for Town Meeting to vote on the appropriation should the selectmen allow a funding article on the warrant. Many of the people who would be most affected by the turbine are seasonal residents who are unable to vote at Town Meeting.
“People who live near there and vested their retirement funds, their livelihoods to live out their dreams, by the hundreds, don’t’ want this,” Carr said. “The figures on who pays the taxes on this island are astonishingly little by the people who live here, and 77 percent by the people who own property here and cannot vote at Town Meeting.”
Selectman Rick Atherton, who attended Thursday night’s meeting, said there were a number of possible outcomes for next week’s board meeting, including postponing a decision in either direction. The Energy Study Committee, he said, had in some ways exceeded its mission by taking an advocacy approach rather than an advisory role to the Board of Selectmen.
“The committee needs to be reminded of its mission, its charge from the board,” Atherton said in an interview Friday. “I think their mission is to report to the board. They have three specific line items tasked to them, and I think their fairly open advocacy for a position probably goes beyond what the charge to the committee is. When you get that invested, you sometimes lose objectivity.”
Despite Atherton’s concerns, Sinatra and other wind energy advocates have raised the possibility of pursuing the turbine project through a citizen petition (which would necessitate a special town meeting) should the selectmen balk at putting it on this year’s Annual Town Meeting warrant.
Next week’s Energy Study Committee meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Tuesday at the 2 Fairgrounds Road municipal building, a session which will be followed by the Board of Selectmen’s Wednesday night meeting at 6 p.m. in the public meeting room at the new police station.
Read more about the project at the town Energy Office’s web site, www.madaketwind.org, and about the opposition’s concerns at www.commonsensenantucket.org
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