NORTHBOROUGH – A local committee has agreed to halt a feasibility study into the potential for a wind turbine to offset the town’s electrical costs.
Citing a large up-front cost and a longer-than-expected payback period, the Wind Turbine Committee members reluctantly accepted that the project cannot move forward.
Although the project has ended, the committee believes it will have positive consequences in the future, should town officials decide to reconsider.
“What we want residents to know is that the information we’ve gathered is useful,” said Town Engineer Fred Litchfield.
Committee co-chairman Joe McNamara agreed, praising the committee for its without passing a financial burden onto residents.
“We’ve accomplished a great deal of work and information, and we haven’t spent one nickel of the town’s money,” he said.
The study, performed by Sustainable Energy Developments, focused on small-, medium- and large-scale wind turbines at three sites throughout town – Tougas Farm, Davidian Brothers Farm and Mt. Pisgah.
In May 2010, SED constructed a meteorological tower at Tougas Farm. The tower collected wind speeds, direction and other data through last summer.
SED representatives Matt Vanderbrook and Steve Wilke presented details to the committee last night.
Vanderbrook admitted that the town’s project was one of the most expensive he has ever worked on.
The main reason for Northborough’s high-cost program is that the town must extend its electrical resources by up to two miles to reach the proposed turbine sites.
Vanderbrook and Wilke said the wind power technology would not be financially feasible because there is not enough wind to power the turbines.
McNamara said the committee initially expected a payback period of four to six years. The SED report estimated a small-scale turbine would not be completely repaid for 16 years.
Vanderbrook said that a large-scale turbine would create a significantly shorter payback period, but a single turbine would not allow the town to make its money back in the desired payback time.
Only Mt. Pisgah could support a large-scale turbine, but Vanderbrook expressed several concerns about the mountain as a potential site.
The land is a protected conservation site and does not have any access roads. Vanderbrook said the construction of the roads and turbine would significantly effect Mt. Pisgah.
After their presentation, residents peppered Vanderbrook and Wilke with lengthy technical and financial questions.
Several residents voiced frustration at what they called a lack of information regarding the turbine committee’s intentions.
But McNamara said the study was a preliminary step in the process, not a binding contract to build a turbine.
William Jeas, a former electrical and aerospace engineer, asked the committee for any data regarding possible taxpayer savings from the turbine.
Neither the committee nor Vanderbrook could definitively say that residents will save any money if the turbine is built.
But McNamara and Wilke said that technological improvements to turbines could make the project more economically feasible in the future.
Wilke pointed specifically to the increasing size of turbine blades, which can create more energy from less windpower.
“Technology is moving forward quickly,” he said. “It helps make projects work where they may not have worked before.”
Although the committee has shelved the turbine project, McNamara said it will reformulate into a Renewable Energy Committee. That group would focus on all forms of renewable energy and potential benefits to the town.
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