Wind study shows promise

Wind study shows promise

By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 10/19/2010 11:44:05 AM EDT


Tuesday October 19, 2010LENOX — Early returns from a wind study atop Lenox Mountain show velocities amenable to generating significant power, results that could lead to residents being asked next May to approve the construction of a wind turbine at the site.

The study began seven months ago through a $79,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state authority for developing the clean energy sector. The research is being conducted with a sonar device measuring wind velocity on top of the mountain. The minimum standard for wind speeds meriting power-generating turbines is six meters per second, or approximately 14 mph. So far, wind levels at 50 feet above the mountain have measured 7.5 meters per second, and 7.9 meters per second at 80 meters above the mountain.

Town Manager Gregory Federspiel called the results “encouraging,” and said the next step will be a series of public forums beginning in January, which will relay the study’s findings and get public input on how to proceed.

A final report is expected to be completed by March, with other factors — access to the site, environmental impacts, connecting to the energy grid and financial feasibility — included in the analysis.

Outside of any major logistical roadblocks, Federspiel said, putting a wind turbine project out to bid could be up for a vote at May’s annual town meeting.

If the project were approved by voters, it could be the first publicly owned wind turbine

in the county, though there is potential for the involvement of a private vendor. The town’s municipal energy costs, Federspiel said, could be cut by more than $100,000 annually once the turbine becomes operational.This is not the first time the town has looked into wind power. In 2005, the Board of Selectmen voted against erecting a wind-testing tower on Lenox Mountain amid public concerns about the amount of tree clearing needed.

New technologies have allowed the town to go ahead with the current testing without removing any trees, though clearing would be required for a turbine — the tower of which could be as high as 80 feet tall.

Federspiel said improved turbine technologies will assuage some of the previous concerns of residents, including noise levels. He expects greater support due to growing interest in clean energy and familiarity with existing turbines around the county, though he also anticipates plenty of questions and an “energetic” debate before a final decision is made.

“There will be lots of opportunity for public debate and ultimately the voters will have the final say,” said Federspiel.

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