TURNERS FALLS – Plans for an unconventional wind turbine in the village of Montague City are back, with the town Zoning Board of Appeals renewing permission first granted over 2 1/ 2 years ago.
Mark Maynard of Easthampton told the board financing for the project had fallen through. Maynard said the project required two parties to finance and one backed out before construction.
“We have reinstated that and we’re ready to go forward,” Maynard said.
Maynard said the Montague City tower will generate an estimated 170,000 kilowatt hours per year, enough to power 30 to 40 households. The tower is to be rated at 20 kilowatts, in contrast to Charlemont ski resort Berkshire East’s conventional wind turbine, rated at 900 kilowatts.
The trade-off is in the areas that have generated strong opposition from some neighbors and some environmentalists to conventional propeller-like wind turbines.
The vertical-axis turbines can’t spin faster than the wind powering them, Maynard said, and in this case should never exceed 42 rotations per minute. At 73 feet, the Montague turbine will stand 204 feet shorter than the Charlemont turbine, or less than a third the height.
Due to the low speed, Maynard has said, his turbines don’t make noise above a whisper, don’t “flicker” and don’t kill birds or bats, criticisms leveled at some windmills.
Maynard builds and sells vertical-axis wind turbines through his company, Urban Power USA, marketing the structures as less efficient but quieter, less visible and less harmful to birds than the more common propeller-style windmills.
The project was to have been the first ground-mounted version of the system, designed for use atop urban buildings, but that first windmill has since been constructed on the Diemand Farm in Wendell.
The proposed structure, as described and as seen in existing examples, resembles a water wheel on its side inside an aluminum cage. The 73-foot tall cage is to hold two turbines, each 23 feet tall and 26 feet wide. The entire structure is meant to stand about 25 feet higher than the surrounding trees.
In January of 2012, the Montague Zoning Board of Appeals granted Maynard a special permit to build a 73-foot-tall tower holding two turbines on a hill on private property in a wooded area in the village of Montague City.
Wednesday, the board again approved the project, which has changed only in details of support and how power lines will be strung and buried.
Town Building Inspector David Jensen said that of 20 notices mailed to abutters seven were returned, with four objecting, one not objecting and two not indicating an opinion.
Neighbors in attendance questioned the appearance and sound of the turbines, and the felling of trees.
The tower is to be built on 13.9 acres belonging to Donald Fugere, behind a string of homes on the southeast side of South High Street and Turnpike Road.
Trees already felled were cut by the property owner’s son, Maynard said, not on his behalf although he did not object. Other trees large enough to take wind from the turbine’s sails will have to be culled from the surrounding woods, he said.
Carol Pedigree said her tenants at 4 South High St. will be able to see the tower, and questioned Maynard’s claim that the turbines are silent.
ZBA member Ericka Almeida said she and others on the board visited one of Maynard’s existing turbines in Easthampton, and it moves very slowly and couldn’t be heard.
Maynard suggested neighbors visit the turbine his company built and, he said, recently rebuilt for research at Diemand Farm.
Planning Board Chairman Ronald Sicard, in the audience, said he had attended the 2011 and 2012 meetings and was hearing the same things.
“Just reminding everybody Montague is a designated green energy community, there’s nothing greener than free air blowing through and putting power into the power lines from a company who’s promising a very quiet, clean facility,” Sicard said.
The ZBA approved with the stipulations that the structure be fenced in to prevent climbing and that noise not exceed 25 decibels 100 feet away.
Maynard said the magnets are capable of producing a vibration in the region of three to four decibels when the turbine begins to spin, but resisted Jensen’s suggestion the board commit him to a noise limit in that range.
Maynard said his company would be responsible for maintenance, but a broken bearing or a fallen branch could temporarily cause noise. Maynard said the company will do its best to keep sound in the three-decibel range because that is the system’s selling point.
Maynard proposed a limit of 70 decibels, then 40 and finally the 25 voted into the permit.
Maynard said he plans to build the structure before the end of the year.
Jensen said Maynard has all the necessary town permissions with the exception of the last-step building permit, and he was aware of no applicable state or federal permits, with the structure not reaching high enough to concern the Federal Aviation Administration.
Power is to flow to the electrical grid and sold to Urban Power companies through the Western Massachusetts. Electric Co. distribution network.
Maynard said he will try to sell shares of the power first to abutters – small utilities are allowed to sell to up to 10 entities – and will try to sell the rest to one large entity like the town.
Urban Power has turbines in Wendell, Easthampton, Brimfield and is working on one in the Leeds neighborhood of Northampton, Maynard said.
In early 2012, months after the Montague ZBA issued Maynard’s first special permit, the Massachusetts Secretary of State publicly charged Maynard and Urban Power with selling unregistered securities backed by unrealistically optimistic business projections. Maynard said those charges were dropped and the company was not even fined.
“We did break the law; we did not know that in the U.S. people without a million dollars cannot invest in our type or corporation,” Maynard said.
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