AUBURN – In 2010, the town celebrated receiving an $85,000 grant from the state Clean Energy Center for a new wind tower feasibility study for Prospect Hill.
Five years later, prospects for a town-owned wind turbine are dwindling.
The Wind Turbine and Alternative Energy Committee, chaired by Robert L. Platukis, has met regularly for five years, to try to see if a wind tower, solar collectors or other alternative energy source can be erected.
At its most recent meeting, the committee learned that manufacture of wind turbines has dropped off and state and federal support of such projects has lessened or disappeared.
In 2010, Adam R. Burney, then-town planner, said he expected a “final feasibility report” from the town’s contractor, Sustainable Energy Developments Inc., by “late 2011,” with a wind tower to be built soon after, if all went as expected.
Sustainable Energy erected a 60-foot meteorological test tower in 2011 on town property on Prospect Hill, high above Home Depot and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
Two years later, the company reported finding a mean wind speed of 13.3 miles per hour and proposed that the town consider erecting an 850-kilowatt Gamesa G58 wind turbine for an estimated $2.9 million. The estimated payback time would be 10 years, while the turbine would give the town a lifetime savings of up to $2.3 million over its 20-year life.
“To me, the wind turbine represents energy independence. If we can reduce our dependence on the Middle East and fossil fuel, we all win,” Mr. Platukis said at the time.
Richard C. Ringgard of 288 South St. opposed the wind turbine, and said the noise and “flicker” lights from the rotating turbine blades would impact multiple homes. He called the Gamesa turbine “a dinosaur,” and said less invasive, smaller technologies were available.
He suggested that solar collectors might be the way to go at that or other sites.
Also in 2013, selectmen received a petition from 40 residents of Coachman Lane and Oxford Street South asking that the turbine not be built in their neighborhood.
That year, Mr. Platukis suggested that a test balloon be raised to show the potential height of a Gamesa turbine and that a sound study be done to test existing, ambient sound levels and potential turbine sounds to measure potential neighborhood impacts.
Matt J. Vanderbrook, project manager with Sustainable Energy, agreed that the tests should be done, but then dropped a couple of bombshells when he told committee members earlier this month that “the market for wind has fundamentally changed, largely because of solar.”
He said 85 percent of his company’s business is now solar rather than wind, federal tax credits for wind power have lapsed and the state Clean Energy Center is “not making a lot of funding commitments” for wind power, though a “third-party investor is a possibility.”
He added, “Wind turbine availability is a problem,” since Gamesa has pulled its midsize 850 turbine out of the marketplace and is focusing on large-scale turbines that would not be suitable for Auburn.
“The marketplace has changed. It’s very difficult for wind. The economic forecast has also changed, and capital costs have gone up,” Mr. Vanderbrook said.
Mr. Platukis pointed out that electrical costs have also spiked, so the town would receive the higher going rate for any energy produced here.
Committee member Jack Barkus said, “Day one we started excited. Things have changed. No one’s making turbines. Tax credits have gone away. I’m not optimistic. Everyone’s going solar.”
Mr. Vanderbrook said there was no risk to the town to do the acoustic study, which is still pending, and putting up the height-measuring balloon in the fall, since they would be state-funded.
Mr. Platukis said the committee advises the selectmen and town manager, who make final decisions.
“I think solar and wind are a good match. Solar is best in summer, when the panels aren’t covered by snow, and wind is best in winter, when winds blow strongest. We proved there is enough wind here, but it is up to the people in charge to decide. Energy alternatives keep us from fighting for oil in the Middle East,” he said.
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