Berkshire County hasn't had a wind power controversy in a few years now. The essentially controversy-free Otis wind turbine project to begin spinning in May (Eagle, April 19) is an example of the peace that now blows across the land.
But does that mean that wind has found its niche or does the quiet testify to the success of wind opponents in chasing off projects that could be controversial and involve heavy lifting to become reality?
Otis voters approved borrowing $6.4 million to finance the project by a roughly 2-1 margin in September of 2015. A private wind turbine at the Williams Stone Quarry that generates electricity for the company enabled the town to get used to the concept, and the public turbine in the elevated hill town has many selling points. It will generate energy for five town facilities, including Town Hall and the Farmington River School, with the majority of the energy generated to be sold to Eversource for it to distribute. The town could use that revenue for capital projects or perhaps to deliver cheap electricity to residents.
This appears to be an ideal wind project, which can't be automatically said for every proposal that comes along. However, the blanket argument that some wind energy opponents have made that pursuing wind energy in the Berkshires is fruitless because the region cannot generate the amount of energy that wind projects off the Massachusetts shore can produce is based on a false either-or premise. If a modest wind energy project like the one in Otis can make a modest dent in the amount of fossil fuel sources used to generate electricity while providing a cash benefit to taxpayers, that project is well worth pursuing.
A wind turbine project proposed for Lenox Mountain five years ago generated considerable controversy in Lenox and Richmond before being abandoned. That project was far more ambitious and complex than the one in Otis, but the legitimate arguments in opposition were mixed with a familiar element of NIMBYism. Just as some Berkshire towns that voted in favor of medical marijuana clinics are now opposing them or struggling with the concept of those clinics being opened within their borders, the general support of clean energy projects can vanish if a clean energy project — wind or solar — should such a project show up in a back yard.
The Otis project was partly funded by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The state has been a leader in promoting clean energy, which besides reducing the emissions that fuel global warming is a growth industry that will provide economic benefits to the states that get on board. The website of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, in outlining the state's expanded goals in generating clean energy, observes that the ridgelines of Western Massachusetts must play a part in that process.
That doesn't mean every ridgeline, but every wind project should be judged on its own merits and not opposed on blanket negative assumptions about wind that don't hold up in every situation. Wind does have a role in the Berkshires' energy future — as Otis will begin demonstrating next month.