LENOX -- A study group's report says the town should abandon a wind energy proposal.
After four months of study, the majority of the Wind Energy Research Panel is recommending the proposal be scuttled because it won't be a financial benefit to Lenox, but would raise health concerns and yield a negative environmental impact. The panel was assigned by the Select Board to evaluate a single or double municipal wind-turbine installation atop Lenox Mountain.
The 44-page, heavily annotated report is on the town's website, www.townoflenox.com.
The findings will be discussed at a forum at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27, at Town Hall. Two days later, the Select Board is expected to vote to move forward or abandon the project.
The six-member panel, with two alternates, was comprised of half supporters and half opponents of the turbine proposal. It was formed on the heels of a study by Weston Solutions Inc., of Concord, N.H., which found the mountaintop a "viable" site for wind-driven energy.
Despite initial discord, the group developed a mostly harmonious working relationship with the guidance of moderator Kenneth Fowler, a Select Board member who was applauded by more than 40 members of the public attending Wednesday night's Select Board meeting, where the report was submitted officially.
Panel members decided to divide into subgroups to explore the financial, health and environmental impacts of the turbine proposal. Meeting 10 times since Oct. 31, including a visit to Lenox Mountain, two of the three subgroups -- environmental and financial -- prepared consensus reports, while the two members of the health subgroup submitted separate findings. Each panel member also included personal statements in the final report.
-- The financial subgroup declared that for the Select Board to recommend moving the project forward, the project's "benefits should outweigh the project's impacts and be worth the project's associated risks and uncertainties." But it determined that if Lenox owned the turbine installation, it could lose several million dollars under a worst-case scenario, exposing the town to "considerably more financial risk and uncertainty than ownership by a third-party developer."
But ownership by a third party would place control of the project and its site in the hands of the developer "with the best outcome being only a very small annual net benefit to the town -- less than one half of one percent of today's town budget."
Panelists Joanne Magee, an opponent from the start, and Eric Vincelette, an initial supporter, agreed that "given the likely poor financial performance of the project and the associated risks and uncertainties, the financial subgroup does not recommend going forward."
-- The environmental panelists, Jamie Cahillane, an initial supporter, and Channing Gibson, an opponent, warned that the town "has the profound responsibility to treat its natural legacy with respect and careful deliberation. Once construction begins, Lenox Mountain will cease to exist as it does today. Before any further consideration of siting wind turbines on the mountain, in order to understand as completely as possible any potential risks to its environment, the panel recommends the town commission additional studies by qualified experts in environmental fields.
"Additionally, before proceeding with any proposal to site turbines on Lenox Mountain, residents of the town should be provided, in multiple public forums, a clear understanding of all positive and negative environmental impacts."
-- The health subgroup returned a split verdict, with Dr. Michael Kaplan, a Lee family practitioner, recommending that the project "should continue to be planned, as it would not likely harm the health of nearby residents. Further study regarding expected sound levels at nearby homes would be necessary. Both Richmond and Lenox residents would need to find benefit from a community-owned wind project for it to succeed."
But MIT Professor Christopher Magee, citing numerous studies, concluded that "there is significant risk that at least some if not many of the residents living within a mile of the potential Lenox Mountain site would suffer from sleep disturbance. Thus, we cannot recommend proceeding any further with such a development at this time."