Thursday, August 6, 2009

Holyoke's Gas & Electric's Plan To Install Wind Turbines Along The Mt.Tom Range.

Area where the HG&E plans to install wind towers

(From The Daily Hampshire Gazette by Dan Crowley)

THE ISSUE: Holyoke's Gas & Electric's plan to install wind turbines along the Mt. Tom Range.
The project was made public in March when the municipally owned utility
bought 207 acres of land on the Holyoke side of the range. The project comes amid calls from the state and Washington to expand renewable energy generation. The effort is backed by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state entity charged with promoting the development of renewable energy. Will it fly?

STORY SO FAR: HG&E acquired the mountainside property for a reported $1.9 million from Springfield Towers LLC, a company owned by John Gormally Jr. of Gormally Broadcasting LLC, which owns ABC affiliate WGGB Channel 40.
The land extends along the eastern slope of Mt. Tom on the Holyoke side, which includes a piece of an historic trail.
Of the 207 acres, 200 are being protected. The utility plans to install wind towers along the ridge line, which borders and is visible from Easthampton and beyond. But Holyoke Gas & Electric must determine whether wind power is feasible on the mountain. Some environmentalists have raised concerns about the project, including it's impact on rare plant and animal species. If wind power is feasible, the utility's preliminary plans call for installing four wind turbines along the ridge, according to James M. Lavalle, the general manager. If the project does not unfold, the state has agreed to reimburse the utility for a significant share of it's purchase price of the land.

WHAT'S HAPPENING: Holyoke Gas & Electric is conducting environmental assessments of the mountainside property it acquired, including a survey of rare animal and plant species and work to outline wetlands. This work will continue through the fall, when the company will compile its data for state regulators to review, and eventually apply for various permits. At the same time, the company is determining how it would get wind turbines to the ridge without disturbing the environment, It also plans to take more in-depth measurements on the quality and characteristics of the wind on Mt. Tom.

FINE PRINT: Right now, the utility is looking at installing four towers that would produce 1.65 megawatts per tower, according to the company. Those towers could be as high as 70 meters or 210 feet and cost more than $20 million, based on today's estimates for such technology and the energy they are designed to produce. However, the design of turbines for Mt. Tom will greatly depend on the wind data compiled by the company.

VERBATIM: "Generally, the thought is, if turbines are going up, they're going up on the ridge," said James M. Lavalle, general manager of the Holyoke Gas & Electric. "Right now, we're really focused on the environmental studies. We have to be conscious of any disturbance that may be made trying to get equipment up to the top. That's part of the review here".

WHAT'S AHEAD: Later this year, when Holyoke Gas & Electric and state regulators have a better grasp of the environmental issues involved with harnessing wind power on Mt. Tom, the utility plans to conduct further wind studies on the mountain and fine tune its wind data, according to Lavalle. The environmental studies are expected to play a key role in determining what path the utility takes regarding permitting.