Wind power project could benefit Westfield

WESTFIELD – The Municipal Light Board will decide this fall, most likely at their September meeting, if the Westfield Gas & Electric Department will participate in a wind generation project with other local municipal utilities.
WG&E General Manager Dan Howard reported last night that Westfield is evaluating its participation in a joint wind turbine project with the Russell and Chicopee municipal utilities.
Russell initiated the project and will have the state and local permits in place within 90 days to erect three 100-meter turbines, with a potential to generate between four to six megawatts of power. The turbines would be located on a 256 acre site, called Holiday Hill, off Pine Hill Road in Russell.
Westfield and Chicopee funded a third-party feasibility study which weighed the cost-benefit ratio of the project. The cost of purchasing, erecting and connecting the turbines to the power grid is estimated at between $16 and $18 million.
Howard said that each community applied for both state and federal green-energy funding. The state, through the Qualified Energy Conservation Bond (QECB) program, awarded each community $2.5 million for the turbine project, while the federal government, through the New Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB), also awarded each community $2.5 million.
A total of $15 million is available for the project through the two bond programs which provide low or no interest financing for green, renewable energy projects. The federal CREB allocation is valid only through September in the current federal fiscal year.
“Advances in technology assist in making their environmentally friendly and ecologically sound sources more of a priority,” Howard said. “Going forward, these and other sources of green energy generation need to be considered by the WG&E.”
Howard, however, cautioned the board that the municipal utility has to be selective in electing to participate in green energy projects, stating that evaluation should consider the benefits to rate payers, lower rates, and to the city as criteria for participation.
The utility is also evaluating two other green energy projects, solar farms at the Twiss Street site and off North Road on land controlled by the Barnes Regional Airport Commission.
The Twiss Street project, which is in the final stage of approval, would generate revenue and power for city buildings, as well as cost avoidance because the solar company would assume maintenance of the capped landfill, a cost that has been borne by the city.
The North Road solar project also provides revenue to the city and airport. That project is still being negotiated, although several local businesses have expressed interest in purchasing power from the solar vendor.
Howard said the city utility would like to expand it green-energy portfolio, but is interested in cost-positive or cost-neutral projects that would not require a rate increase for participation.
Howard said the wind turbine project is “border line” in terms of a cost-benefit analysis.
“All three of these (green-energy) projects have similar timelines for completion and the department will pursue only those that have a solid benefit for its ratepayers and/or the city,” Howard said.

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