SAVOY – “How much” is likely to be a central question this week when Savoy residents gather once again to talk about wind power.
Not how much taller, but how much more money?
Nearly a decade after they backed a bylaw governing a West Hill wind power installation, residents will decide Wednesday whether to tweak that law to allow Minuteman Wind LLC and its partner, Palmer Capital Corp., to increase the height of turbine blades by 30 feet.
At an Aug. 24 public hearing on the issue, the question triggered renewed debate about the wind farm, with opponents raising health, safety and aesthetic issues.
Those questions may also return Wednesday at a special town meeting starting at 6 p.m. in the town fire station.
“We’re trying to get the town from getting too divided,” said Select Board Chairman John Tynan. “We’ll get to this vote and see what happens from there.”
The turbines first selected for the wind farm, after the 2008 bylaw approval, are no longer manufactured, forcing Palmer and Minuteman Wind to shop around.
By increasing the overall height from 425 to 453 feet, a Palmer representative says, the five turbines will be able to produce more power – and increase the town’s share of proceeds through a “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT) agreement.
Without that, the project will forego an estimated 15 percent boost in generating capacity, according to Lindsay Deane-Mayer, project manager with Palmer.
The wind farm was conceived as a 12.5 megawatt installation. Without the bylaw change, that could drop to 11 megawatts, Deane-Mayer said.
Turbines built by GE and Vestas are now under consideration, but the company is leaning toward the GE devices.
“I really like that turbine for the town,” Deane-Mayer said. “We want to make sure we’re offering up a manufacturer fit that will let us best maintain it going forward.”
Without the bylaw change, the project might have to shift to blades that are 28 feet shorter. Deane-Mayer said, adding, “We’re not as excited about that size. The longer blade is beneficial.”
The bylaw change needs to win a two-thirds majority at Wednesday’s meeting. The session will be run by Moderator Erik Krutiak.
To advance its case, the Minuteman Wind project mailed a brochure to town residents. It was countered by another mailing from wind power opponents.
Frank Haggerty has been circulating information that challenges industry statements about wind power, some of it available at savoywind.com.
“Industrial wind is a bunco scheme of enormous consequence,” Haggerty said in an email message to The Eagle. “The people who value intellectual honesty should not quietly be fleeced by such mendacity, even from their government and the news media.”
Haggerty declined to be interviewed and did not reply to a question about where he lives.
Tynan has estimated that by allowing the height increase, the town’s annual PILOT revenue would climb by about $40,000.
But $40,000 more than what remains an unknown.
“We were hoping to have something because we were asked that question a number of times,” Tynan said.
By coming to terms, the town and developer both gain, experts on PILOT agreements say. The town gets a stable source of revenue, rather than seeing proceeds fall as the project’s value depreciates over time. Minuteman Wind avoids having to pay a full tax assessment at the beginning of its generation.
The falling size of any prospective PILOT has been a sore point in town. When the project was approved in 2008, a figure as high as $220,000 a year was mentioned.
But both sides agree that’s no longer possible, due to changes in the energy market, particularly rising use of natural gas in electricity generation.
Tynan said he hopes to be able to provide a more specific accounting at Wednesday’s meeting.
The town is working with a New Hampshire consultant to negotiate a PILOT deal on its behalf with Palmer and Minuteman Wind.
Tynan said the town asked the consultant to provide estimates on what the PILOT revenue would be with and without the bylaw change.
The dollar figures to be shared with residents Wednesday will not be official, Tynan cautioned, but “relatively close to the final number.”
Those numbers may be reviewed by the Select Board at its meeting Tuesday, a day ahead of the town gathering.
“We’re just going to forward a number that they have,” Tynan said of the coming estimate.
Deane-Mayer confirmed that PILOT talks are ongoing.
“We’re trying to maximize the value,” she said.
A key to that is the blade size. “There’s a difference in production from the sweep of the rotor,” she said.
Until the wind farm is constructed, the town has nothing to tax, Tynan noted. The town may reach a letter of agreement with Minuteman Wind and Palmer, but that will be provisional until a contract is signed.
“It’s important to get as much as we can from the PILOT,” Tynan said of potential town proceeds. “We’re still trying to push for a pretty high number. If the town’s going to do this, we want that.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding