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Western Massachusetts towns take opposite approach to wind power

Two small towns in Western Massachusetts have opposite opinions on developing future wind energy projects in their communities.

At a recent special town meeting held in Heath, a small community located in Northwestern Franklin County, 96 voters unanimously chose to ban any wind turbine over 100 ft tall within the town’s borders.

At the meeting, a presentation developed by Heath’s Renewable Energy Advisory Committee was shown to town voters detailing impacts of any large scale industrial wind-turbine on the town.

Steve Ryeck is one member of the Committee, he said they did research on complaints coming from towns across Massachusetts, including the nearby communities of Florida and Monroe, where a 19-turbine wind farm began operating in late 2012.

“When we did the research it became fairly clear that there were a lot of issues regarding health and noise. You have to understand that Heath is a town of only 707 people, incredibly quiet environment, all rural, and we were concerned of what the impact of industrial wind would be in a town like this,” said Ryeck.

The committee presented data that any turbine over 100 ft in the small town of only 24.9 sq. miles could not be located far enough away from homes to prevent health impacts . They also cited a decrease in property values on any home within 2 miles of a turbine, which would have a significant impact on the rural community’s tax revenues.

The vote to prohibit the turbines was greeted enthusiastically by town voters.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening in the Southern Berkshire County town of Otis, a special town meeting was held where 83 voters unanimously approved a 2 MW municipally owned wind project.

Larry Gould, Chair of Otis’ Energy Committee, explains, “I think this particular project is right for the town. It’s in a good location and it’s in a proven area, and it’s only going to benefit the town more.”

The land where the turbine will be sited was granted by local business Williams Stone. The company constructed its own 600 kilowatt wind turbine at its manufacturing facility in Otis in 2009. Using it to power its business, Williams Stone estimated on its website that the turbine would pay for itself in energy savings within 6 to 8 years.

The difference of opinion on wind turbines between the two towns was unsurprising to Roopali Phadke, a researcher and Assistant Professer of Environmental Studies at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota. She conducted a study on the public reception of wind turbines in Berkshire and Franklin Counties.

“The citizens we engaged in the symposium told us two things. They told us, one, that they were much more willing to support wind turbines that were developed municipally, or that they were developed for on site use – so like this or maybe a ski resort. They were much more cautious of projects where there was a third party corporate developer.”

That could help explain why the residents of Otis, a town with only one operating turbine, would be open to a turbine under municipal control.

In Dr. Phadke’s studies, residents of Berkshire and Franklin Counties said that local control and public transparency were the two most important factors in siting wind projects.

Massachusetts currently generates 46 MW of electricity by wind power. Governor Deval Patrick has previously set a goal of developing 2000 MW of wind energy capacity by 2020.


[audio available]