Tuesday August 14, 2012

LEE -- Got wind energy?

The town wants to spend $100,000 to determine whether a municipal-owned wind turbine project can generate enough power and revenue to further reduce its electricity costs.

The Board of Selectmen is seeking a $95,000 state grant to study the financial and logistical feasibility of erecting one or two turbines along a ridge line fronting the town’s upper reservoir near October Mountain State Forest. Lee taxpayers are kicking in the remaining $5,000.

If the grant is approved, The Cadmus Group Inc. of Watertown will spend up to two years gathering data and analyzing it before issuing a report and recommendation to the town. The board has already agreed to retain Cadmus to prepare the grant application due within a month’s time.

"This [grant] is to study wind, not put anything up," chairwoman Patricia Carlino said at a recent board meeting.

Town officials are expecting more opposition to wind energy than the planned solar array project expected to save taxpayers $1.5 million over a 20-year period. The 3-megawatt system will help power Lee’s municipal buildings in order to reduce its annual $452,000 it pays to Western Mass achusetts Electric Co.

Local critics of wind turbines say they are an environmental and aesthetic detriment to the Berkshires. Lenox shelved its controversial proposed wind-energy project atop Lenox Mountain due to mounting opposition from residents.

Lee will examine the same issues along with whether wind energy is a sound financial investment, according Thomas Wickham, chairman of Lee’s Energy Efficiency Committee.

"If there is no money in [wind energy], there’s no sense doing it," Wickham said. "It’s for the taxpayers of Lee."

Based on a four-year-old preliminary study, Wickham believes, at best, two turbines could be built on the site being studied. He said the electricity generated would power the town’s water treatment plant, with the excess being sold to WMECo.

Charlie McClelland, an associate engineer with Cadmus, worked on the 2008 study conducted by the Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. McClelland noted the ridge line near the upper reservoir -- with an elevation of 1,600 to 1,700 feet -- had "some potential" to harness wind.

"Generally in the Berk shires, the higher the elevation, the better the wind," he said in a phone interview with The Eagle.

However, McClelland noted studying the potential impact of wind turbines on the view, acoustics, watershed and habitat of the mountain ridge, along with wind potential and project costs, will help determine if Lee should invest in wind energy.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233