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Otis residents to vote Tuesday on wind turbine project

OTIS >> Registered voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide the future of energy consumption in town.

Town officials are seeking to exempt from Proposition 2 1/2 the loan needed to pay for the estimated $6.4 million wind turbine project.

The money will pay for the land acquisition, design and construction of the turbine on land off Algerie Road. In early August, the project received initial overwhelming support at a special town meeting with the 82 to 13 margin of victory far exceeded the two-thirds majority necessary for approval.

Voting on the lone ballot question is from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Otis Town Hall, with a simple majority needed for passage.

If approved, the single wind turbine could be operational a year from now, according to town officials.

The green energy project is expected to generate 6.2 million kilowatts of electricity each year, with Otis needing only 350,000 kilowatts to run town-owned facilities. The rest of the electricity would be sold off to another government entity.

The wind turbine will produce cheaper electricity than Otis currently gets from Eversource, the town’s electricity provider, according to town officials. The excess electricity would be sold to the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaboration in the Springfield area.

Five years in the making, the turbine was originally proposed for land along the Lee-Westfield Road, but the alternate location would prove better on two fronts, according to Town Administrator Chris Morris.

“It’s further away from the closest residence and the project is $2 million cheaper,” he said.

Morris noted the reduced price tag is due to the site being better suited for connecting to the Eversource power grid.

Wind Wise Massachusetts, an alliance of organizations and individuals across Massachusetts concerned with the negative impacts of “poorly-sited wind turbines,” has criticized the proposal.

In a letter published in a recent edition of The Eagle, Wind Wise President Virginia Irvine questioned the town’s use of a 2012 feasibility study to promote the project, a study done for the original turbine site.

Irvine also criticized Otis for not addressing the 415-foot height of the turbine and relying on virtual – rather than factual – data for a wind resources map.

Town officials say all issues and concerns have been addressed and cited little opposition the wind turbine erected by Williams Stone Co. that’s 2 miles away from the Algerie Road site.

“We haven’t had a single complaint at Town Hall and [that turbine] has been operating since 2009,” said Larry Gould, chairman of the Otis Energy Committee.

During an informational meeting prior to the Aug. 4 special town meeting, Gould outlined how the $6.4 million financing would be in the form of Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, with the federal government covering 70 percent of the estimated 4.7 percent interest. Based on that figure, Otis taxpayers would pay close to 1.4 percent interest on the bonds.

Gould noted the interest rate could change by the time the bonds are floated in November.

Otis officials are currently negotiating with the landowner of the proposed site with an elevation between 1,500 and 1,600 feet. The town is spending $480,000 in state energy grants to pay for the feasibility and acoustic studies for the project. The remaining funds are covering preliminary design work.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.

If you vote …

What: Special town election on wind turbine project

When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Otis Town Hall, 1 North Main Road (Route 8)