By Bruce Gellerman March 24, 2014
A wind turbine is seen at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock in late 2008. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
Five years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick set an ambitious goal: He declared that by 2020 the state should develop enough wind-generated electricity to power 800,000 homes. Patrick said a quarter of that wind power should come from turbines located on Massachusetts land.
But with half the time gone, we’re still far from reaching the governor’s goal for wind power.
After Delay, Hoosac’s Built
Dec. 3, 2012, was an overcast day in Berkshire County, but that didn’t dampen Patrick’s enthusiasm. He went to the rural northwest corner of Massachusetts to mark the near-completion of the Hoosac Wind Power Project, the largest in the state — 19 huge turbines built on two mountain ridges in the towns of Monroe and Florida.
“You don’t want them everywhere, but when you think about what they’re doing in terms of a clean, renewable and reliable source of electricity, it adds to the beauty,” Patrick said. “I think they’re quite elegant.”
But when it comes to wind power, beauty is in the eye — and ear — of the beholder. Opponents sued Hoosac, calling the 330-foot-tall turbines eyesores, loud and unhealthy. The lawsuits doubled the permitting time and the initial cost estimates.
After eight years of delay, the state’s highest court settled the matter. The $90 million Hoosac wind farm was built.
And Patrick was finally able to claim Massachusetts was on its way to meeting his ambitious wind energy goal.
“When I first took office, there were three wind turbines in the commonwealth and three megawatts of wind energy capacity installed, all throughout the state,” he said. “Since then, Massachusetts has experienced one of the fastest rates of wind energy development in the whole nation — more than 30-fold increase in our wind energy capacity. In fact, more this year alone than all previous years combined.”
But in the year since Patrick gave this speech, only one new wind turbine has been built in Massachusetts. And if the governor’s ambitious goal is to be met, we’ll need a dozen wind farms the size of Hoosac.
But Paul Copleman — a spokesman for Iberdrola Renewables, which owns Hoosac — says the Spanish company has no plans to build more wind farms in Massachusetts, even though under state law utilities are required to buy an increasing share of their electricity from clean, renewable sources like wind.
NStar buys all the electricity Hoosac produces. It’s enough to power 10,000 homes a year, saving 100 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually, compared to a fossil fuel plant.
“Our fuel is free,” Copleman said. “The wind is always free, so what that enables us to do is to deliver a fixed source of power for as long as the wind is blowing. So there are very few variable costs to the operation of the facility.”
Dozens Of ‘Dead Wind’ Projects
Hoosac’s 19 turbines make it by far the largest wind farm in the state. But if Virginia Irvine has her way, it’ll also be the last.
“To be honest I thought that wind was really great myself,” she said.
That was until Boston-based First Wind announced plans to build a 10-turbine wind farm on a mountaintop in Brimfield, in Irvine’s backyard.
“I moved here for the quiet, for the rural character, and to be able to go out my backdoor, put on my cross-country skis, and go into the woods,” she said at her home.
The steady breeze on West Mountain caught First Wind’s attention in 2010 — enough wind, it estimated, to power 15,000 homes.
The company studied the site, held meetings with residents, and designed plans to erect the 400-foot-tall turbines less than a mile from Irvine’s home. She fought back, and helped organize the group called No Brimfield Wind.
But it was profit, not protesters, that sealed First Wind’s fate in Brimfield. The company pulled the plug on the project when it discovered there wasn’t enough wind on the mountain to make it financially feasible.
“Oh yeah, we won,” Irvine said. “First Wind has not, you know, put in a project in Massachusetts. They only do big projects. They went up to Maine.”
And Irvine went on to co-found Wind Wise, a statewide organization to help others fight against land-based wind projects.
Irvine says she’s not against wind farms, that they’re great in Texas and Iowa, but not Massachusetts, which ranks 35th in potential land-based wind — most along the coastline.
“It doesn’t fit,” she said. “We’re the fifth most-densely populated state in the country. And wind turbines generate very little electricity. It takes a thousand wind turbines to equal the Pilgrim nuclear plant.”
There are 44 wind projects currently operating in Massachusetts. They generate less than 0.6 percent of the state’s electricity needs and just a fifth of the terrestrial wind energy goal set by Patrick. By Irvine’s calculations, there are 49 wind projects that never got off the ground; she calls them dead wind. And 13 projects are in limbo, or still in the permitting process.
INTERACTIVE MAP: NOTES: Locations are approximate; only includes projects greater than 100 kilowatts. SOURCE: Virginia Irvine, co-founder of Wind Wise Massachusetts, a grassroots anti-wind organization; the state would not confirm these map items.