Friday May 6, 2011

HANCOCK -- The state's first on-shore wind farm has begun generating electricity from atop Brodie Mountain.

Only one turbine was spinning for Thursday's ceremonial ribbon cutting, but the other nine turbines will be brought online during the coming week, slowly building to the point where it will generate enough electricity to fulfill the power needs of 6,000 homes.

More than 50 people braved the cold wind and intermittent rain to witness the ceremony marking the completion of the Berkshire Wind Project, the largest utility-scale wind energy project in the state.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick was there to cut the ribbon and express some thoughts about wind energy in the Bay State.

"This is a perfect opportunity to show a whole new level of environmental stewardship," he said. "It is also an opportunity to grow a whole new industry and make the world our customer."

Noting that the project took 13 years to complete, Patrick said the proposed wind-siting reform act is again making its way through the state Legislature.

"We need the wind-siting bill -- it shouldn't take 13 years to finish a project like this," he said. "We can have wind-siting reform and still preserve local interests."

He praised nearby land owner Meredith Cochran and her family for being so supportive of the project -- the Cochran's Summit Farm leases land to the project for three of the 10 turbines.

Before Patrick spoke, Cochran addressed the gathering, saying that 13 years to complete a project like this one is "a ridiculously long time."

Over the years, the Cochrans have sold Christmas trees, honey, timber -- anything they could do to sustainably support their farm, she said.

"And now the farm will sell wind energy," Cochran continued. "All the way from 19th century charcoal to 21st century wind. My parents would love it -- utilizing a new technology with an existing resource [to produce a] new product to support the farm and help diminish our country's dependency on corporate energy sources."

Located in Hancock and Lanesborough, Berkshire Wind turbines were installed in 2009 and 2010, after being stalled for nearly a year by a lawsuit from adjacent land owner Silverleaf Resorts.

"This project marks a new era of renewable energy development in Massachusetts today," Patrick said. "Creating scores of jobs in its construction, helping to create relief from the price volatility and pollution of imported fossil fuels, and advancing Massachusetts' nation-leading goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energy, Berkshire Wind is a beacon of our clean-energy future."

The wind farm takes advantage of wind resources along the ridgeline of Brodie Mountain with 10 General Electric 1.5-megawatt turbines.

The project is owned by the Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative Corp., a cooperative of 15 nonprofit public power entities, including the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. (MMWEC) and 14 consumer-owned municipal utilities that provide electricity to Ashburnham, Boylston, Groton, Holden, Hull Ipswich, Marblehead, Paxton, Peabody, Shrewsbury, Sterling, Templeton, Wakefield and West Boylston.

Estimated to cost $6 million at first, the project ballooned over the years to the final bond issuance of $64.7 million.

Richard K. Sullivan Jr., secretary of Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs, said the wind project is a historical achievement.

"Congratulations to Berkshire Wind, which makes history today by officially becoming the commonwealth's first on-shore wind farm," he said. "Through this project, and numerous other smaller wind projects across the state, we are making steady progress toward Gov. Patrick's goal to install 2,000 megawatts of wind power in Massachusetts by 2020."

H. Bradford White, president of the Berkshire Wind cooperative, said the effort to harness wind energy was a response to their customers' need for renewable energy.

Figures provided by the Berkshire Wind Cooperative show that the wind farm will produce more than 52,500 megawatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power 6,000 homes, and will offset production of 612,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and the use of 1.7 million barrels of oil.

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6241.