RUTLAND – Twenty years after the closing of Rutland Heights Hospital, the land has officially been turned over to the town.
Selectmen, Finance and Capital Improvement Planning Committee members met with the Development and Industrial Commission on April 19 to discuss potential plans for the property.
Windmills, assisted living facilities, apartments and condos, recreation fields, and tennis courts were some of the ideas presented at the meeting.
Patrick Bird, a Clark University consultant working on his master’s degree in environmental science, presented a financial analysis for a proposed wind project.
“It’s twenty years and five months to the day the hospital closed,” Bird said. “This is a pretty exciting time for town officials. A lot of people have been involved in this over the years.”
Thomas Dufault, chairman of the Development and Industrial Commission, was credited for 17 years of keeping the issue on track. “We owe him a debt of gratitude,” said fellow committee member Michael Sullivan.
Dufault said the title process is finally complete and a portion of the left over cleanup funds ($80,000) will be put in an account to help the town pay for a reuse plan for the property. The 1995 plan is outdated and the RDIC is working with GLC Development to prepare a new one, according to Dufault.
He said one idea was to have one or two wind turbines to create electricity for municipal buildings, while at the same time earning revenue for the town.
A wind feasibility study of the property was done in 2008 and the study concluded the potential for wind energy development was “very good” at the site.
Bird looked at public and private ownership models for wind turbines. Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner installed two 1.65 megawatt turbines through federal and state grants and low interest bonds and is producing as much energy as it requires. Savings in electricity bills exceed bond payments and provide net savings of approximately $100,000 annually, according to Bird.
In Scituate, the town partnered with a private company, Solayer Renewable Energy to build a 1.5 megawatt turbine on town owned land. The town leases the property to the company for $1 a year, and the town buys the energy for $0.089 cents per kilowatt hour, increasing two percent a year. Annual savings are expected to be about $200,000 annually, according to Bird.
The cost of installing three turbines that Bird determined to be the optimum number for the site would be $4.5 million each. Public ownership assumes the town would levy a 20-year bond at four percent to build the project. The town could receive energy credits for every kilowatt the turbines generate and those credits would be used to offset municipal electricity costs.
Under private ownership, the town could lease land to a wind developer for $1 a year and in return the developer would establish a power purchase agreement with the town for energy at $0.089 per kilowatt hour, saving the town more than $166,000 a year, Bird said.
Further studies need to be done, primarily a noise assessment test.
“The town really has to be on board with this,” Bird said. “Environmental stewardship and outreach strategy is huge.”
He suggested arranging a bus trip so residents could visit other wind turbine sites in the area. “We’re talking about a turbine that is 450 feet in height. It’s going to be visual, no doubt,” he said.
“The beauty of one [turbine] offsets our energy use, a second one after debt service and maintenance becomes profit,” Dufault said, with one study showing $700,000 a year in revenue.
Selectman Sheila Dibb noted a Princeton wind turbine had been out of service since last August, “Is this something we have to be concerned about?” she asked.
“There is little risk going with a private developer,” Bird said. “Ownership is a risk, as we’ve seen in Princeton.”
If two wind turbines were constructed on the property, there would still be room for other development, according to Dufault. He said consultants have advised against industrial development, noting there is no highway access.
GLC has drawn up two proposals.
One is for an assisted living facility similar to Briarwood in Worcester, consisting of independent living units for residents of Rutland, as well as a nursing facility. That plan also includes ball fields, tennis courts and a small commercial district near the road.
The other option eliminates the wind turbines, creating 40 units of apartment/ condo style housing, with assisted living and nursing facilities, ball fields, tennis courts and a commercial district on the street.
Legislation was written so the property would be used for tax and job generation, according to Dufault, so recreation can’t be a major focus of the parcel. He said the RDIC would continue to work with GLC on a reuse plan and get more public input at three meetings.