An arbitrator’s decision has raised doubts about the future of a proposed wind turbine in Milton and increased interest in the school system’s solar energy project.
In a final decision released late last month, arbitrator Gordon L. Doerfer allowed the town to build the turbine, but he said from April 1 to Nov. 15 it must restrict its operation to nighttime hours. During that time, the turbine would have to shut down between 7:30 a.m. and about sunset.
The significance of those dates is that they delineate the golf season. Quarry Hills Associates, owners of the 27-hole Granite Links Golf Club that straddles the Milton-Quincy border, argued that the turbine, which would be located next to the club, would interfere with the golf.
Although Town Meeting has voted to approve and finance the turbine project, officials now have to decide whether to proceed with construction.
“Now we have some empirical data to go through to see if there is any way to make that wind turbine project work on those limited hours,” said Thomas Hurley, chairman of Milton’s Board of Selectmen. “Is it worth it?”
The decision will be made within a month, said Hurley, who added, “If it makes economic sense, we will put it up.”
Under the restrictions ordered by the arbitrator, electrical service would not be interrupted, as the windmill would feed into a grid and provide the town with offsetting credits on electrical bills for municipal buildings. But cutting the operating hours would reduce the electrical output and the savings to the town.
Construction of the wind turbine would cost $6.2 million, which the town would finance through bonds, and a fully operational turbine could save the town $800,000 a year, according to Milton planning director William Clark.
If the turbine is derailed, however, another green energy option may be available.
At a selectmen’s meeting early this month, the chairman of Milton’s Wind Energy Committee, Richard Kleiman, called the arbitrator’s decision disappointing. But he raised the idea of solar energy for the town.
Milton’s School Committee has authorized a 14,000-panel photovoltaic system to be built in Natick. The system would provide 2.9 million kilowatt hours of electricity to the schools per year.
Kleiman said it would be possible for the project to be expanded, with the town getting access to some of the electricity in addition to the schools. Selectman Robert Sweeney said he had spoken to Milton’s assistant superintendent of schools, Matthew J. Gillis, about the possibility.
“I was very impressed with his numbers, which indicate if we do join the schools, we save between $90,000 and $95,000,” Sweeney said at the selectmen’s meeting.
That would increase over time, as electricity rates increased, according to Kleiman.
Selectmen will check with the town’s counsel to make sure it is legally possible to join the solar project, he said.
“We want to do it; it is just a matter of procedure from here,” Hurley said.
He added that participation in the solar project with the schools would not preclude moving forward with the wind turbine, if it were found to be economically viable.
The dispute with the golf course grew out of the 50-year lease that Quarry Hills Associates signed with Milton and Quincy. As part of the lease, the company agreed to pay $13 million to cap Milton’s landfill, and the town agreed to allow Quarry Hills to run a “professional-level” golf course on that property.
In 2011, Quarry Hills Associates sued to block the proposed turbine, arguing that the 400-foot-tall structure would undermine that agreement. The company contended that the turbine would obstruct views of the Blue Hills and create noise and motion that would distract golfers.
In June 2011, a Superior Court judge ordered binding arbitration for the case, because the lease contained an arbitration provision.
Doerfer, in part, agreed.
“The town has a duty not to interfere with the quiet enjoyment of the leased premises,” Doerfer wrote. “It also has a duty not to undermine the fundamental purpose of the lease, which is to permit QHA to develop and operate, at great up-front cost, a professional-level golf course.”
While Doerfer found that the simple presence of the windmill would not interfere with play, he wrote that the evidence from testimony he had received indicated that noise and motion from the operating windmill would pose a distraction, especially on holes four, five, six, and seven.
That led to the decision to allow the construction of the wind turbine, but limit operation to hours the golf course is not open, according to the documents.
Construction of the turbine would be limited to between Oct. 15 and March 15.
Jeffrey Tocchio, attorney for Quarry Hills, said the company was pleased with the decision.