Bioenergy, Project Development, Wind Power

Massachusetts Launches Wind Collaborative

In a state better known for its forays into large wind energy installations like the proposed Cape Wind offshore project, Massachusetts communities are stepping forward and expressing interest in the other end of the spectrum – small community-based wind power projects, and the state’s public renewable energy trust is creating just the right atmosphere for them.

Westborough, Massachusetts – September 26, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), the state’s development agency for renewable energy and the innovation economy, launched a new US$4 million initiative through its Renewable Energy Trust. The Community Wind Collaborative aims to help Massachusetts communities evaluate, design, construct, and operate smaller wind projects (4.5 MW or less) to both reduce energy costs and contribute to a cleaner environment for Massachusetts citizens. Massachusetts completed a wind resource assessment in 2003 which indicated significant on-shore opportunity for wind resource development, particularly in the uplands in the western part of the state and in coastal areas. The Renewable Energy Trust, which accrues money for funding renewable energy projects through a small charge on consumer electric bills, will offer a combination of project development funding, technical support, and other specialized assistance to communities, focusing initially on “early adopters.” Initial projects will demonstrate the impact that such community scale wind projects can make and develop a base of support for future renewable energy development in Massachusetts. While the MTC’s director Rob Pratt always knew he wanted to use his quasi-governmental organization as a catalyst for spawning small community-oriented wind power projects, it was also the communities stepping forward that helped propel this program. “I knew I was going to do this when I arrived as director, but the argument for doing it was furthered by the communities that approached us. It’s the sense that people are starting to seize their energy future,” Pratt said, referring in particular to a successful wind power project in Hull, Massachusetts where one large wind turbine feeds power to the town. “They’re into it, they’re really excited and their biggest problem is that its (wind development) not moving fast enough.” Like most new wind projects in the U.S., there was initial skepticism in Hull when the idea first arose, but Pratt said the community has come to appreciate their contribution to a cleaner environment through renewable energy and providing themselves with economical power. So much so, that a recent poll in the town showed 85 percent in favor of similar wind development. Many from the Hull community and those who have visited the turbine found it was not noisy, and that there were no avian impact issues. The noise was a particular concern in Hull since it was sited 600 feet from a school, but they’ve encountered no noise problems at all. Hull isn’t the only town interested in futher wind development. The first round of meetings between the MTC and the local communities showed significant interest throughout the state. Pratt said 10 communities are have indicated strong interest. The city of Boston, through the Boston Harbor Alliance, Barnstable, Orleans, Plymouth, Fairhaven, Nahant, and others. Out of a possible 351 communities in Massachusetts, Pratt said wind would make a lot of sense for at least 100 of them. The town of Princeton has already embarked on significantly upgrading a few existing turbines with much larger units. “The kick-off was a great success and we have dozens of communities interested in wind,” Pratt said. “It was a terrific beginning to a program we think has great potential to produce green power and increase awareness about renewable energy sources.” More than half of the interested communities expressed a particular interest in using the small wind projects to provide electricity for wastewater treatment plants, Department of Public Works facilities, street lighting, landfills and other municipal needs. These often are the largest energy drains for towns and municipalities. Wind power could offer some towns energy at below market price, Pratt said. The community wind collaborative will take a three-pronged approach. The interested communities will first be responsible with securing the permitting. Pratt suspects this process could prove easier for the community than it might be for an outside developer. If the development push comes from within the community, there stands to be more general acceptance, and fewer hurdles to jump over. The MTC said extensive urbanization in eastern Massachusetts as well as competition over land with recreation and environmental protection interests favors smaller rather than larger wind installations. In the second step, the MTC will open a solicitation for a preferred wind power partner. In this upcoming solicitation, wind turbine manufacturers will be able to compete for the MTC’s final selection. Working exclusively with one wind turbine company, the communities and the MTC will help keep prices down by taking advantage of bulk purchasing, and the ability to maintain a common spare parts inventory. Working with one company will also offer logistical advantages. In the final component, the MTC will provide consultants to work with the communities and the preferred partner. Ten testing towers will be available through the University of Massachusetts to finalize the most promising turbine locations. Funding for the hardware and installations will come primarily from the towns that would benefit from the installation, but Pratt didn’t rule out the possibility of the MTC stepping up to help finance the early projects. The initial investments could be paid for by bonds which would then be paid off through yearly savings. Pratt said some communities could stand to make over $150,000 a year on these small installations alone. While the community wind power collaborative won’t add an enormous amount of green power to the state’s grid, it’s the shaping of a long term vision that this project will accomplish, Pratt said. Besides the environmental and economic benefits to towns and communities, the project will familiarize people in the state to a technology which is experiencing stunning growth – upwards of 30 percent a year. “It’s all a matter of generating interest, getting the flywheel going,” Pratt said. “People need to find out whether or not they want to look at these things. They’re like lighthouses, very tall, man-made, yet people love them. They’re like kinetic sculpture.”