NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. – The Wind Committee will recommend to the Board of Selectmen that the town not pursue wind power development at this time, said Committee Co-Chair Joe McNamara at last night’s meeting with representatives from Sustainable Energy Developments (SED).
This decision, which has been seen as increasingly inevitable over the past month, followed the release of a feasibility study done by SED last spring. A New York-based company, SED focuses on the development, design, construction and maintenance of on-site and decentralized wind projects. The grant-funded study determined that while wind power in Northborough is technically possible, it may not be economically viable.
At the beginning of the meeting, Committee member Richard Jones summarized the process that led to the study. The goal of bringing wind power to town was to generate enough energy to earn credit from National Grid.
“The whole idea was to offset town costs,” Jones said.
The feasibility study focused on six potential sites for wind development: two each at Tougas Farm, Davidian Brothers Farm and Mount Pisgah. These sites were narrowed down after taking into consideration potential wind strength, as well as zoning laws and proximity to residents.
“Generally we found that we had insufficient resources,” Jones said.
More specifically, SED Project Manager Matt Vanderbrook explained that the wind speeds measured at these locations ended up being slower than originally predicted. According to the report, typically a wind speed of at least 14 miles per hour is required for turbines to be feasible. The study recorded an average of about 12 miles per hour.
The result is that all possible projects would take years before breaking even on the cost of installing them, ranging from 9.6 years to 16.3. The expected lifespan of such turbines is 20 years. And even though one potential windmill – a large-scale, 1.8 megawatt turbine located on Mt. Pisgah – actually promised a savings of over $7 million, it also required the highest up front costs.
Other problems were identified as well. Many of the sites would require an extension of three-phase power in order to operate, which is an added difficulty. One turbine on Tougas Farm would technically be located in Boylston, creating an entirely new set of legal issues. And even the largest turbine on Mt. Pisgah would require construction on conservation land and a resolution to difficult access problems.
“The [Wind] Committee was formed to look at the feasibility,” Jones said. “At this time it isn’t.”
Several residents attending the meeting were curious about the future of wind power and whether advances in technology would one day make it more feasible.
“You start to see these new technologies … sort of scale that down to a lower scale,” Vanderbrook said. Companies, he added, are beginning to see a market for medium-sized turbines more suited for the type of project Northborough might wish to do, rather than large-scale turbines.
Resident and Co-President of the Northborough Republican Town Committee Mike Long questioned the cost of wind power versus the cost of other energy sources. The SED representatives pointed out that while the cost of sources like natural gas and coal continue to rise, the cost of wind has remained flat and is becoming more attractive.
Plus, as McNamara pointed out, “Fossil fuels are contaminating, wind is not.”
Vanderbrook said that if in the future the town chooses to reconsider the wind question, it will have much more information to start with than it did this time.
“The wind data is always good,” Vanderbrook said. “The feasibility study is always good.”
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