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Wind farm expansion to power local homes

By By Ken Cleveland ITEM CORRESPONDENT

Posted
Jan 21, 2019

The wind in the western Massachusetts town of Hancock is bringing power to several Central Massachusetts communities.

The Brodie Mountain Wind Power Project, located atop the mountain in Hancock, is beginning phase two construction, adding to the existing 10-turbine, 15 megawatt system with two 2.3 megawatt turbines being built next to existing turbines. When construction is done in late spring, it will bring it to a total generation capacity of 19.6 megawatts.

Boylston, Sterling and West Boylston are part of the 14 municipal electric departments benefiting from the new turbines through the Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative Corporation.

In the three area towns, wind and solar – non-greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting sources – provide a significant part of the town power.

West Boylston already gets a lot of power from wind, according to information from light plant General Manager Jonathan Fitch.

That includes power from its share of the existing Berkshire wind turbines, which generate about 4 to 5 percent of the town’s annual energy requirements, Fitch said, with expectations the project will operate through 2036.

A wind project in Maine ,provides 2 to 3 percent of town needs, while the nearby Princeton wind project contributes 1.4 percent of energy needs; West Boylston purchases 17 percent of power from the 3-megawatt, two turbine wind farm in Princeton.

The Boylston Municipal Light Department will be purchasing 4.419 percent of the output of the new Berkshire turbines, which will add 0.2 megawatts of electricity to the town lines, according to Manager Mark Barakian.

In 2018, 8.4 percent of Boylston’s power was generated by wind from the Berkshire Wind on Brodie Mountain and a wind project in Maine.

In Sterling, “we are excited to be a part of the Brodie Mountain wind project. This project builds on the success of the first 15 Megawatt wind project Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company developed,” General Manager Sean Hamilton said. “Sterling has a 5.23 percent share of this project as we continue to expand our portfolio of carbon free power, including nuclear (32 percent),” he said.

“The expansion of the wind project on Brodie Mountain is just one way that the Boylston Municipal Light Department is moving forward to expand its renewable energy portfolio,” Barakian said. “Boylston’s overall purchased power portfolio during 2018 was around 49.14 percent carbon free, consisting of nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar.”

Sterling has also continued its battery project, which allows for storage of power, providing power when the sun does not shine or the winds don’t blow.

“Sterling’s Battery 2 Megawatt/3.9 Megawatt-hour storage project continues to bring interest from around the world with four major awards and having been visited by over 15 different countries and 23 municipal and investor owned utilities, Hamilton said. “This first in New England project is expected to exceed over $1 million in savings to the Sterling ratepayers in mid 2019.”

Residents in the towns have responded to the bragging rights of green power.

“The feedback we have gotten from the residents and business in Sterling has been incredible,” Hamilton said. “We sold out our first-in-Massachusetts 1 Megawatt Community Solar with 1 Megawatt/2 Megawatt-hour storage project in under two months with a maximum of 400 subscribers.”

Despite the costs of green projects, ratepayers have generally not seen substantial increases attributed to those power purchases.

In West Boylston, Fitch said that “green power in Massachusetts is both renewable power from solar and wind generation, and, clean power from hydroelectricity and nuclear generation.”

All of these types of green power generate energy with “zero” GHG emissions, he said.

Over the past 20 years, West Boylston’s energy supply was 58 percent non-GHG-emitting, Fitch said. West Boylston expects to continue a 50 percent non-GHG-emitting power supply through at least the 2035 to 2040 timeframe. West Boylston’s power sources for 2018 include: 8 percent wind, 5 percent solar, 6 percent hydro, and 44 percent nuclear.

Sterling has over 80 percent carbon-free energy in its portfolio, with four wind contracts, three solar contracts (4.5 Megawatts that equals 40 percent of the town’s peak needs) and five hydro contracts.

Hamilton said all those contracts are “at competitive prices. We feel we met the administration’s goals of making Massachusetts one of the cleanest states in the country.”

West Boylston’s electricity rates “are relatively low and stable compared to the rest of the state’s utilities,” Fitch said. “We haven’t had a rate increase since 2009 and we’re still able to add solar and wind to our energy portfolio.”

Fitch explained that was because the majority of the town power supply is already clean and emits zero-GHG-emissions and the light plant is selling the renewable energy credits from the solar and wind generation it owns.

“This helps lower the operating cost and keep our rates low,” Fitch said. Once those project loans are paid off, the West Boylston plant will consider retiring those credits and increase the percent of its non-GHG-emitting energy.

“Sterling Municipal Light Department continually looks for ways to improve our power portfolio that brings value to our ratepayers while also being good stewards of the environment,” Hamilton said.

And in West Boylston, the new solar system, installed on the old town landfill on Route 140, is working well and as designed. “In operation for two years now, it generates enough annual energy for about 255 homes in West Boylston,” Fitch said.