Two years ago, when I would receive a press release about a solar farm, I’d assign a story. We’d shoot photos, interview the participants, and lay out where the power would flow, and who would benefit. Now, a new solar farm is hardly worth a short business story. Solar has become ubiquitous, and by that, I mean solar panels are sprouting up everywhere: in fields, on top of industrial buildings, on top of single-family homes, on retired dumps and polluted industrial sites, and more. There are solar farms that serve one user, and others whose power is pooled to serve more than one user. An entire industry of solar installers has developed, and Central Massachusetts has several prominent and successful companies. By and large, solar power is a success in Massachusetts.
Wind farms, though, have been much less successful. While the progress of wind farms being built off the coast of Massachusetts have started and stopped, small wind farms have not taken off. Save for the lone turbine turning on the campus of Holy Name Central Catholic High School, wind has not succeeded in Central Mass. The two $7.3 million turbines at the Princeton Municipal Light Department lost $1.8 million in 2012 and have not produced nearly the amount of power projected. Two wind turbines at the North Central Correctional Institution in Gardner have struggled to produce the promised power. There have been some success stories, like at Mount Wachusett Community College, where two turbines are producing power for the college.
Other turbines on Cape Cod have been lightning rods of controversy, for marring sight lines to the ocean, for light “flickering” that bothers neighbors, for bird kills, and more. (The poles themselves are actual lightning rods – one was damaged by lightning at the Gardner prison in 2013, but I digress).
When I worked as a reporter for The Standard-Times in New Bedford a decade ago, I wrote stories about one entrepreneur and former state representative who sold dozens of turbines to individuals throughout the SouthCoast region. The first stories were positive, hopeful. Then some of the turbines fell over, others malfunctioned, and the Attorney General’s office eventually had to step in and force the entrepreneur to issue refunds. As tempting as it was to believe that a wind turbine could provide cheap, consistent power for individual businesses and homeowners, success has proven elusive.
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