Friday, June 13, 2008
Utility takes over windpower plan
MMWEC group includes several area communities
By Paula J. Owen CORRESPONDENT
The Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative, a municipal lighting plant cooperative comprised of 14 Massachusetts municipal utilities and the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company yesterday acquired ownership of the Berkshire Wind Project's assets in Hancock and Lanesborough.
The design for the proposed 15-megawatt wind power project on Brodie Mountain in Western Massachusetts that is projected to begin operations in 2010, will include the installation of 10, 1.5-megawatt wind turbines. Depending on the availability of wind turbines and other factors, the project's total capacity is 15 megawatts, but could also provide additional megawatts, according to David Tuohey, corporate communications manager at MMWEC.
Assets acquired by the Cooperative include the easements, permits, agreements, engineering documents, developed property and other items that enable the cooperative to build and operate the proposed project, Mr. Tuohey said. An access road and some excavation work have been completed at the project site and the cooperative intends to complete development including the purchase, installation and operation of the wind turbines at the site, he said.
"It is a substantial commitment by these municipality utilities to develop renewable energy resources," he said. "There is no legal mandate or portfolio standard requiring them to do that, but municipals recognize it is the right thing to do for their customers and for the environment."
Not only is the right thing to do, it saves consumers money, said cooperative President H. Bradford White, manager of the West Boylston Municipal Light Department.
Mr. White explained when your power supply is generated by only one source, such as natural gas, prices are dictated by the cost of that one particular fuel.
"It enables us to use different power supply options so that you are not totally dependent on one source, like natural gas or oil," he said. "If it is not diversified, you are at the mercy of the market, because no one is giving long-term contracts anymore. If the price of fuel goes up and you don't have a contract, you are paying today's price."
Mr. White said pursuit of the project is consistent with ongoing activities to explore and develop alternatives to fossil fuels for power generation to bring greater stability to power prices and help address climate change issues.
He said now that the acquisition has gone through, the cooperative will proceed as expeditiously as possible with the work required to bring the project into operation.
Mr. Tuohey said the cooperative has entered into a short-tem, $8 million loan agreement with PeoplesBank in Holyoke to finance the purchase and ongoing development activities.
The cooperative paid $4 million for the project assets, formerly owned by Berkshire Wind Power, L.L.C., which initiated project development approximately a decade ago, he said.
The balance of loan proceeds will be used for a deposit on wind turbines and to finance other development activities, he added.
The total project cost is estimated at approximately $45 million, with long-term financing still being arranged.
Members of the cooperative are the towns of Ashburnham, Boylston, Groton, Holden, Hull, Ipswich, Marblehead, Paxton, Peabody, Shrewsbury, Sterling, Templeton, Wakefield and West Boylston. All provide electricity at retail to their customers. MMWEC is a nonprofit, public corporation and political subdivision of Massachusetts that provides a wide range of power supply, financial and other services to the municipal utilities.
MMWEC and the Princeton Municipal Light Department created a similar cooperative last year to develop a 3-megawatt wind project in Princeton. PeoplesBank provided approximately $6.5 million for the initial financing for that cooperative.
"In providing the initial capital for these two projects, PeoplesBank has demonstrated its commitment to renewable energy resources," said MMWEC Chief Operating Officer Ronald C. DeCurzio. "These municipal utilities are working hard to move the Berkshire and Princeton projects into production, and the financing provided by PeoplesBank is an important step forward for both projects," he said.
Members of the Berkshire wind power cooperative began their association with the Berkshire Wind Project in 2004 when they entered into agreements to purchase the entire output of the project. In 2007, the municipal utility members of the cooperative decided to pursue outright ownership of the project and to complete project development.
Under documents governing the establishment and operation of the cooperative, MMWEC will serve as the cooperative's agent in financing the Berkshire Wind Project and in performing the administrative and accounting functions of the cooperative. MMWEC also will serve as the cooperative's representative to ISO New England. The municipal utility members of the cooperative will be responsible for repayment of any debt issued on behalf of the cooperative as well as any administrative expenses.