Sunday, April 27, 2008
Energy plan gearing for green
8 Central Mass. towns investing in wind power cooperative
By Paula J. Owen CORRESPONDENT
Beginning in 2010, wind in the Berkshires will help meet some of the electricity needs of 14 Central and Eastern Massachusetts communities whose municipal utilities belong to the newly formed Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative.
"The communities are interested in getting into green energy to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and try to help the environment by looking for energy alternatives," said H. Bradford White Jr., president of the cooperative and manager of the West Boylston Municipal Light Plant.
Wind power from the project will provide only a small portion of what West Boylston's customers need, he said, but diversifying generating sources will help stabilize costs. Power West Boylston's customers use now is generated by sources that include nuclear, hydropower, natural gas and oil.
"These days you don't want to have all your eggs in the fossil-fuel basket." said David F. Tuohey, spokesman for the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. in Ludlow, a member of the cooperative. "In today's marketplace, you really need to have a diverse supply of electricity. It helps protect the consumer from spikes in prices of one resource or another."
In February, MMWEC agreed to buy the assets of Berkshire Wind Power LLC in Hancock and Lanesboro for $4 million.
The deal is expected to close next month. When it does, MMWEC and the 14 other municipal utilities that are members of the Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative will own the project, acquiring easements, permits, agreements, engineering documents, developed property and other assets of early preconstruction development work.
At full capacity, the 10 wind turbines will produce 15 megawatts of power. One megawatt is enough to supply electricity to 300 to 400 homes.
The co-op is working on bank financing for $40 million to $45 million to complete the wind turbine project by 2010, Mr. Tuohey said. Municipal utilities that are co-op members will pay co-op expenses, including interest and principal on bank loans and operating costs of the project, he said.
The site, on Brodie Mountain, has an access road and some excavation work has been completed, but the co-op has to buy 10 1.5-megawatt wind turbines, the biggest project cost and that takes time to obtain, Mr. Tuohey said.
Central Massachusetts communities that will receive power from the project are Ashburnham, Boylston, Holden, Paxton, Shrewsbury, Sterling, Templeton and West Boylston.
Power generated by the project is expected to cost less than power purchased on the spot market, according to Mr. Tuohey. But while consumers will not see a decrease in their bills from use of a cheaper power supply, he said, all electric consumers in the co-op towns will benefit by more stable prices in the future.
"This is a tool that we hope will enable municipal utilities to expand their ownership and involvement in other renewable resources as we move ahead," he said.
The absolute cleanest approach to renewable, sustainable energy, Mr. Tuohey said, is conservation - reducing demand - because not using energy has no environmental impact. Wind power, he said, is one of the better supply options because of low environmental impact, free fuel and a small environmental footprint.
Peabody will receive 16.9 percent of the project's output total for its customers, the largest amount of the towns in the co-op. Peabody, Wakefield, Hull, Marblehead and Ipswich will use half of the output, Mr. Tuohey said. The other nine towns will use the other half.
West Boylston will use about 5 percent of the total output for its 3,200 customers, Mr. White said.
"There are not too many choices in New England," Mr. White said, referring to power sources. "We are trying to affect future increases in cost, and this was an opportunity to get involved with a good-size project in this state owned by public power. It is our way of trying to help customers, but help the environment, too."
Stanley W. Herriott, municipal electric plant manager in Ashburnham, said the project shows a community's commitment to renewable energy. Ashburnham will use about 4.3 percent of the total output.
Customers of investor-owned utilities such as Unitil and National Grid pay a renewable energy charge on their bills that goes into a trust to help fund renewable, sustainable energy projects, but because municipal utilities do not pay into it, they cannot tap the money, Mr. Tuohey said.
Legislation is pending that would allow towns with municipal light departments to pay into the trust, making grants and rebates available to those communities.