Savoy seeks public comments on wind-power bylaw tweak

SAVOY — By increasing the size of turbine blades, a proposed wind-power plant in Savoy could generate 15 to 20 percent more electricity.

But first, residents must agree to tweak a bylaw. That process starts at 6 p.m. Thursday with a public hearing at the Savoy Fire Station.

The hearing had been set for earlier this month, but was rescheduled by the town.

When they agreed nearly a decade ago to allow commercial wind energy projects, residents at town meeting capped turbine height of 425 feet.

That was all Minuteman Wind LLC expected to need when it erected five Clipper Windpower turbines.

But today, turbines from that former Iowa manufacturer are no longer available, said Lindsay Deane-Mayer, a project manager for Palmer Capital Corp., the Cohasset company overseeing the roughly $31 million project.

Instead, the venture is considering turbines built by either GE or Vestas. The change in supplier brings Minuteman back to town seeking approval to have the turbines reach a maximum height of 455 feet, or about three stories taller.

The bylaw change, which will need a two-thirds majority at a future Town Meeting, would also lessen ground clearance for turbine blades from 100 to 70 feet.

Both Deane-Mayer and Select Board Chairman John Tynan say that by increasing the wind farm's capacity, the developer will be able to provide more revenue to the town in the form of payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT.

But by returning to a public hearing and town meeting, opponents of the West Hill project have a chance to test community acceptance.

Deane-Mayer told The Eagle last month that if the bylaw change is rejected, Minuteman Wind could opt for smaller blades and press on, though it would reduce the value of the project and size of tax payments.

"We're hoping that this goes well and we can provide additional benefits to the town," she said Tuesday.

The 12.5-megawatt project won approvals from residents and boards in 2008 and 2010, then faced delays due to environmental challenges. The state Department of Environmental Protection cleared the project to proceed late last year.

Doing math

Here's the math on the changing turbine measurements:

The "hub" of a turbine, the attachment point for three blades, stands 80 meters off the ground, or 262.4 feet.

That's the same as originally proposed, Deane-Mayer said.

But the blades themselves would be longer, if a bylaw change allows it. Deane-Mayer said the blades would increase in length up to 58 meters, or 190.2 feet.

Add the hub height and blade length and it comes to 138 meters, or 452.7 feet — just under the proposed new maximum.

Another way to picture an operating turbine is to imagine the circle traced by the tips of its three blades. In this case, that circle would have a diameter of 116 meters, or 380.5 feet.

PILOT agreement

Meantime, Savoy and Minuteman Wind are scheduled to begin negotiations this week on how much the project would provide in tax benefits to the town.

The parties hope to reach an agreement favorable to both sides.

The energy company stands to gain by reducing its initial tax obligation, when its equipment holds the highest value. It benefits by stretching those payments. Such an agreement would help the town by providing more consistent payments over time, officials say.

Tynan said that when the venture was first discussed, the figure of $220,000 in yearly tax payments was mentioned by Minuteman. But Deane-Mayer said this year that because of changes in the energy markets over the past decade, terms of a PILOT agreement remain uncertain and she declined to say whether $220,000 remains a reasonable target.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions