Norwell – Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick made alternative energy development a priority when he came to office and listed goals for both solar energy and wind power. A few years into the plan, solar energy development is already more than halfway to the 2017 goal, while wind power has only three percent of its 2020 goal met.
“When Deval Patrick came into office and expanded clean energy in 2008, goals were made for solar and wind energy,” said Catherine Williams, communication director for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. “250 Megawatts (MW) of solar for 2017 and 2000 MW of wind energy was planned for 2020.”
According to Williams, the state currently has 143 MW of solar energy developed and 61 MW of wind power developed. Although the numbers make it look like the state has put more time and effort into the solar program, Williams said the state is as devoted to wind energy as ever.
“The solar and wind goals are equally important,” she said.
Williams said people should look to offshore wind projects to explain the state’s slow movement with wind development.
She said the number of MWs that the state gets from wind power would rise significantly if delayed off-shore projects were completed, noting that one project – the controversial Cape Wind project on Nantucket Sound – would offer 4,000 MWs if it were completed.
“The expectation is that a large portion of the wind energy will come in later from off-shore wind,” she said.
Aside from the unfulfilled aspect of the wind power, Williams said that the state has actually accomplished a lot with wind power.
“The number shows good progress,” she said. “Wind power has increased by 18 fold and several projects are pending off shore.”
Bob Murray, Hanover’s facilities manager, said he thinks that wind power works but, from the town’s perspective, solar power makes more sense.
“I think solar energy has more opportunities,” he said. “There are more issues with wind turbines.”
Murray said that, although wind power produces more energy, it hasn’t progressed as much as solar and it is hard to find a place to make it work in Hanover.
“Wind power is really suited well for certain locations,” he said. “But solar is a little further down the road.”
A wind turbine is ready to go and solar panels are already active in Hanover but Murray said there aren’t immediate plans to expand the program.
“We have a new wind turbine. We’re just waiting for the contractor to commission it. And the new high school has a solar array on the roof,” he said. “There have been conversations with vendors [about future projects], but nothing has gone forward.”
Norwell Town Administrator Jim Boudreau had similar comments on the issue as it pertains to his town.
“We’re all about whatever works,” he said. “We have a solar system on the middle school’s roof, but there aren’t a lot of sites where wind power would work.”
According to Boudreau, the Norwell Energy Committee has begun to focus specifically on solar power because of its accessibility to the town.
“We try to look at it from all different ways,” Boudreau said. “If we had sufficient sites with sufficient wind, then we would look into a turbine.”
Boudreau said that, aside from the difficulties that have been arising with placement, he is a little hesitant to move forward with wind projects because of drawbacks other communities have seen with wind turbines.
“It creates noise. It has the flicker,” he said. “Solar is a lot more passive.”
He added that some communities have had success with wind turbines, such as Kingston, which has multiple turbines in place.
Krista Selmi, spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental affairs, said the state stands behind the wind program. However, on the town level, both Boudreau and Murray said they would look to solar before wind energy. So is the state moving away from wind power town by town?
“If I’m a home owner, it is a lot easier to put solar panels on my roof,” Selmi said. “Siting is a lot simpler.”
Selmi said there doesn’t need to be as many state wind power programs to equal and surpass the amount of energy produced by solar projects because each turbine produces much more energy.
The wind projects being developed in the state are on a much larger scale than the solar projects, which are typically small.
Selmi noted a project in Florida, Massachusetts that would be the state’s biggest on-shore project that hasn’t been factored into the total.
“The state is certainly not walking away from wind,” she said.
Williams said that what should be remembered in all of this is renewable energy is being used, either way.
“The idea is, ‘Let’s create homegrown energy,’” she said.
“I think we’re going to see more wind power and more solar power. Renewable energy is the future here, especially with progressive policy. Those numbers didn’t go up by accident.”