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Results of Auburn wind power test look promising

AUBURN – Test results are in, and it appears that the town might be windy enough to make a profit.

At last week’s meeting, members of the Wind Turbine and Alternative Energy Committee received the final report on the meteorological test tower erected nearly two years ago on Prospect Hill.

The report, which was handed out by Robert L. Platukis, committee chairman, came from Sustainable Energy Developments Inc. of Ontario, N.Y., and concluded that the town’s property on Prospect Hill “has the necessary qualities to host a technically and financially viable net metered community wind turbine project.”

SED found a mean wind speed of 13.3 mph at the site. The company proposed that the town consider erecting an 850-kilowatt Gamesa G58 wind turbine at an estimated cost of $2.9 million, including $1.3 million for the turbine and $1.6 million for design, development and construction. SED estimated a payback time of 10 years, with a lifetime savings of $2.1 million to $2.3 million.

The 60-foot-high test tower, which was erected in July 2011, and the report were funded by an $85,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Mr. Platukis said he will ask to have the report posted on the town’s website at www.auburnguide.com.

“We want this report to be open to the public so they can make suggestions and find the answers to their questions. The more input we get, the better project we’ll have.”

He said the committee will meet at 6 p.m. June 26 to discuss the report and its implications.

“One reason this wind turbine is great is that the highest production is in winter, when the cost of natural gas is highest. A lot of people will look on this turbine as a symbol of our energy independence.”

Richard C. Ringgard of 288 South St. said the proposed turbine is “a pet peeve of mine” and spoke against it.

“There are 105 homes within a half-mile of this thing. If you think it won’t affect the value of the homes, you’re crazy. The issue is the reduced value of homes and resulting reduced taxes for the town. That’s got to be looked at,” he said, and asked that the town consider waiting for new technology with “small turbines 100 feet tall, instead of this 400-foot dinosaur that has 50-year-old technology.”

He said noise and “flicker” from the rotating turbine blades would impact multiple area homes.

Mr. Platukis said the issues had been studied and that the impact had been found to be minimal, with very few hours of flicker per year affecting any homes.

“It could be shut down for short times if anyone is affected. I don’t want to do anything to any Auburn resident I wouldn’t do to myself.”

Longtime local Realtor Matteo Gentile said after the meeting: “In my professional opinion, wind turbines do not affect value.”

Mr. Ringgard said he would like the town to hire an engineer for a peer review, “not a developer we will buy from.”

Mr. Platukis said a peer review is normally requested by the Zoning Board of Appeals or Planning Board once a site plan reaches them.

“Mr. Ringgard is putting the cart before the horse. We have to receive several approvals from the select board and town manager before we get to that stage.”

Mr. Ringgard also asked that the committee’s meetings be televised and held at a later hour and that a balloon be flown at the height of the proposed tower “to give a different perspective of what you’re trying to do.”

He suggested that solar collectors be considered as an alternative energy source rather than the wind turbine, which only produces “a minute amount of energy,” and said, “If the wind turbine worked, you wouldn’t need grants to get it going.”

Mr. Platukis said, “Every little bit helps. Not everyone wants the area to be disturbed for solar collectors.”

He said other issues with solar collectors on Prospect Street included ledge and wetlands there, but he suggested Pakachoag Golf Course as a possible site for solar collectors.

Mr. Ringgard said, “They don’t like golf balls bouncing off them. I’m in mud up to my knees every day in wetlands putting up solar collectors.”

Mr. Platukis said, “There are all kinds of opinions out there. I wish you had come forward 10 years ago, when we started discussing this. To me, the wind turbine represents energy independence. We can generate energy without burning fossil fuel or nuclear energy. We want to help National Grid not have to build another fossil fuel plant. Wind is a precious resource, and Auburn has it.”