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November 02, 2009

One wind project stalled, while another up to speed

By Steve Landwehr

IPSWICH — A company that builds upscale vacation condos has brought at least a temporary halt to the Brodie Mountain wind turbine project in the Berkshires, in which the town has a 6 percent stake.

Texas-based Silverleaf Resorts was recently granted an injunction in connection with a lawsuit it filed two years ago, alleging that a permit for an access road to the project had expired.

Ipswich is among 14 communities that are members of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. taking part in the wind project. Locally, Marblehead and Peabody are also members.

The nonprofit consortium owns the electricity distribution rights for 10 turbines planned for construction by Berkshire Wind. The $46 million project had been expected to be completed by January 2010 and producing electricity by next spring.

Ipswich Utilities Director Tim Henry said the town expects to get about 3 percent of its power needs from the turbines when they are online.

The Berkshires wind project once had a tie to the town's own wind turbine project on Town Farm Road.

When Berkshire Wind requested bids for its 10 turbines, Ipswich "piggybacked" its own request along with it. That was a year ago, but when the turbine manufacturer couldn't come through, the town turned to a Canadian company instead.

Henry said AAER Inc. of Montreal has promised to deliver the 1.65-megawatt, $2.6 million turbine by Feb. 19. Construction should be completed in about a month, and the Electric Light Department has finished the work necessary to tie the turbine into the electric grid.

"It could be operational before Berkshire Wind produces a single kilowatt," Henry said.

The utilities director is hopeful the lawsuit will be resolved speedily, noting that Gov. Deval Patrick's administration "wants to see this project go forward."

The town's wind turbine is the result of a unique collaboration between the school and utilities departments.

Schools Superintendent Rick Korb learned last year that the school department was eligible for a no-interest federal loan for such a project. The schools are therefore contributing $1.6 million to the project, and the Light Department is kicking in the other $2.6 million.

For the life of the 10-year bond to repay the grant, the schools' electrical bills will be credited in the amount of the debt service owed every year. Korb estimated it would be between $110,000 and $120,000 a year. After that, the schools will get free electricity from the turbine.