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Windmill project a success for Marion

Marion – At this year’s Fall Town Meeting, voters will decide what is done with half of the $80,000 the town is saving on its electric bill.

An item on the meeting agenda will have residents vote to authorize the Selectmen to seek authority from the General Court to allow 50 percent of the electricity savings to invest in other energy-efficient upgrades.

In August, the town started receiving its electricity from wind turbines in Plymouth as part of the Future Generation Wind project.

“It’s a pretty big thing that they’re finally running,” Dr. Jennifer Francis, a scientist and member of the Marion Energy Management Committee, said.

But the road to the more efficient energy wasn’t without issues. Using wind energy was on the town’s radar before there were any plans for the turbines to be built in Plymouth.

At first, the town was looking at the Great Hill farm on Delano Road as a potential spot to build turbines, said Bill Saltonstall, a member of the Marion Energy Management Committee.

“Eventually, we decided it would be a bad idea,” he explained, citing the proximity to the Stone Estate. “At the time, neighbors to the turbines in Falmouth found them to be noisy.”

After the town decided not to proceed with that project, Saltonstall thought maybe the grounds of Old Rochester Regional would be a good alternative. However, his research found that there wasn’t enough wind at the school to warrant erecting turbines there.

In the winter of 2011, Saltonstall received a call from Keith Mann, the owner of a cranberry bog in Plymouth.

“He said he had a lot of land and decided to investigate the possibility of having a wind farm on his land,” Saltonstall said.

Mann put together a plan for a four-turbine project on his land that would only serve municipal buildings. He then reached out to Saltonstall to see if Marion would be interested in buying electricity through his turbines.

Eventually the project was approved at Town Meeting, and Marion became Mann’s first customer.

Old Rochester Regional also became a customer when the high school and junior high agreed to a deal with Mann as well.

Business Administrator Patrick Spencer said he doesn’t know the exact amount the school will be saving, but that he is expecting to receive quarterly checks from Eversource.

After finding enough customers, ConEdison Solutions, an energy services company that specialized in renewable and clean energy, offered to buyout, build and finance Mann’s project.

The project did experience a few hiccups, such as the residents of Bourne “freaking out” over trucks driving through with the equipment.

“They were worried the roads would be damaged,” Saltonstall said.

Eventually, the towers went up, and Marion began running on renewable energy this summer.

“I’m proud of the Town of Marion for making it happen,” Saltonstall said. “I’m really pleased.”

The town’s agreement is for 20 years, and in exchange for the long-term agreement, the town was offered a 20 percent discount on electricity.

“The difference in price changes as the price of electricity changes overall,” Francis said. “So we’ll always get a discount.”

Essentially, the town continues to pay the rate it has always paid for electricity, and then receives reimbursement checks in the mail from Eversource to account for the discount.

“We expect it to amount to at least $80,000 a year,” Francis said.

The project, while based in Plymouth, services a number of towns, with Marion being the “point entity” for making sure the turbines had a market.

“Marion is sort of the leader in making this agreement happen,” she said. “The idea was that we and the other towns and schools and entities that are part of this guarantee that the power would be used and that it would have a place to go.”

Now, with the turbines up, running and saving the town money, Francis and the Energy Management Committee are hoping that the town can use that money to make some other changes to help the town be greener and more energy efficient.

Some of the committee’s suggestions for ways to use the money include replacing streetlights with LED fixtures, replacing old appliances in heating and cooling units or using the money to purchase the electric vehicles currently being leased after that lease expires or to lease new ones.

If something should happen that the town can no longer receive its electricity from the turbines, the town would return to paying the same electricity rates as it did before.

“There was never any risk for the town,” Francis said. “If we end up not not having success here, then we go back to how we were before.”