BY DICK ROTHSCHILD, CLIPPER COLUMNIST
(© R.D. Rothschild; 2nd North American Rights)
(As appeared in The Duxbury Clipper, January 23, 2013)
Marveling at the speed with which Kingston’s “Independence” wind turbine materialized, from ground breaking to completion in two and a half months, one is tempted to think that getting community wind power up and running is a slam dunk. Far from it. Under the best circumstances it is a long, arduous process demanding extraordinary perseverance, patience and an extra measure of derring do. In Kingston’s case, the idea of harnessing wind energy goes back to August 2002 when the Town’s selectmen, led by Mark Beaton, decided to create the Kingston Secure Energy Future Commission. Three years passed before the Renewable Energy Laboratory at UMass erected a meteorological tower atop the Town’s capped landfill to monitor the site’s wind resources. Another couple of years were chewed up in discussions, presentations, reports and hearings before Town Meeting approved of a Wind Turbine Zoning and Overlay District. Then another three years were consumed to get to Town Meeting approval of a zoning bylaw amendment to adopt the Green Communities designation allowing “by right” permitting for wind turbines and then authorizing land lease for wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Now tack on yet another two years of project design, zoning bylaw amendments, presentations and approvals. Finally, in late 2010, the Board of Selectmen authorized the Town Administrator to negotiate a contract to construct, operate and maintain a wind turbine.
Soon thereafter Kingston signed a contract with D & C Construction. It provided that Kingston would lease the land on which the turbine was to be erected for 20 years at $150,000 per year plus a 3.5 percent annual escalation of the lease payments. And it included a power purchase agreement entitling Kingston to buy all the electricity it needed for its municipal buildings at the discounted price of 11.5 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour) to escalate 3.5 percent annually.
As a result, this single 2.4 MW (megawatt) Hyundai Wind Turbine contributes about $315,000 a year to Kingston’s revenue – well over six million dollars over the 20 year lease period from a combination of lease payments, purchase power savings and added real estate taxes. The Town also benefits from the three privately owned Gamesa wind turbines, which contribute an additional $236,750 per year or almost five million dollars over the same period. Taken together and factoring in lease and real estate tax escalation, the total benefit to the Town could easily exceed 12 million dollars over the next two decades.
If the power produced by all the Kingston wind turbines were used to provide electricity to its homes it would take care of all 2,400 of them with enough left over to power 2,100 more. By displacing fossil fuel-generated electricity, these turbines reduce climate damaging carbon dioxide emissions by more than 71 thousand tons. That is equal to the COreducing effect of nearly 800,000 additional trees.
To date, Kingston has five operating wind turbines including the “Independence.” The smallest is a 100-kilowatt model in the MBTA yard adjoining the Kingston commuter railway station parking lot. Erected in late 2011 with funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it provides 65 percent of the electricity used by the Kingston commuter rail station, including its diesel-electric engine recharging facility.
The three other turbines were erected by sustainability-minded developer Mary O’Donnell on part of the O’Donnell Family Trust’s Marion Place property, north of the Independence Mall. The property had been incorporated in an expanded wind turbine district in 2010. The wind turbine project came about when Mary O’Donnell’s 40R, 732 unit residential unit projected development on the site became enmeshed in appeals by abutters and the withdrawal of a project participant, Thorndike Development. Since then, the financing of the purchase cost of the existing three turbines has run into snags and Mary O’Donnell may have either to sell them to another operator or have them repossessed by the manufacturer. Undaunted by these high hurdles, O’Donnell is pushing ahead with a new development plan for the property. In its present iteration the plan incorporates 250 affordable apartments, an office-retail facility, solar panel electric generating arrays and acres of sustainable farming.
Despite substantial benefits the wind turbines have brought to Kingston, a very small but vocal minority, mostly abutters and well organized and financed supporters from outside Kingston, have aggressively opposed the wind turbines. Citing health, noise, safety, visual and real estate value issues they have attempted to thwart them at every stage. But an overwhelming majority of Kingston residents support the turbines as evidenced by the “Public Perception of Wind Energy Projects in MA,” a study published on Oct. 22, 2012 by The Center of International Environment +Resource Policy at Tufts University. After the wind turbines were installed, 90 percent of the Kingston residents surveyed had either a neutral, positive or very positive attitude about them.
Here’s what I come away with on the subject. The environmental and financial benefits of local wind far exceed its negatives. That said, means should be found to address the real or perceived negative effects complained about by residents closest to the turbines (short of impeding wind turbine development or operation). These could include amelioration of the offending conditions, where physically feasible and economically reasonable and where not, an offer to purchase the complainant’s property at appraised market value. With the above disclaimer, I believe the South Shore should push ahead on building wind turbines, while continuing to learn how to optimize their efficiency and reduce their minimal negative effects. While there are few absolutes when it comes to building a community wind energy facility, there does seem to be at least one: To succeed, it needs to be championed by one or more influential and courageous advocates in Town government.