Otis voters affirm commitment to wind power, townwide high-speed Internet

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By Thursday, Oct 8 News
Heather Bellow
The wind turbine at Williams Stone Co. that powers the company's operations is similar -- but smaller -- than the one the town of Otis will install to provide electricity for the municipality and schools.

Otis — Wind energy and broadband projects got the go-ahead at last night’s (October 6) special town meeting, with voters willing to spend $5.5 million for the construction, installation and maintenance of a high-speed Internet network, and to give the town permission to acquire a piece of land on which a wind turbine will be installed, and up and running in 12 to 18 months.

The broadband vote was 132 for and 16 against. The wind energy vote, 115-26. Town clerk Lyn Minery said roughly 166 voters attended, more than usually attend annual town meetings and substantially more than the 50 or so voters who usually turn out for special town meetings.

The Otis selectmen attend the August meeting during which voters overwhelmingly approved the first step in the wind turbine project. From left, Donald Hawley, Roberta Sarnacki and William Hiller. Photo: David Scribner

The Otis selectmen attend the August meeting during which voters overwhelmingly approved the first step in the wind turbine project. From left, Donald Hawley, Roberta Sarnacki and William Hiller. Photo: David Scribner

Otis, with a population of about 1,400 that soars anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 in the summer, turned heads when it recently announced it was opting out of Western Massachusetts’ broadband cooperative WiredWest, and going to invest in its own system, saying it didn’t need a middleman between it and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the funding entity working to get the entire state wired up with fiber optic cables. The MBI is set to give Otis its $1.8 million.

In August the town voted, by an 83-12 margin, to appropriate $6.5 million for the wind energy project. Last night’s vote was to allow the town to secure land to host the turbine, either on Algerie Road, or on another site if necessary “through all legal means” including donation, purchase or eminent domain. The vote appropriated $226,800 for this purpose, yet it is unclear how much, if anything, will be spent.

Thirty-four acres off Lee-Westfield Road, recently donated by Edwin Williams of Williams Stone granite company, turned out to be a prohibitively costly location for the turbine to be hooked to the power grid, and to upgrade the system run by the electric company, Eversource. The town still owns that land, but was forced to find other arrangements, and is now in negotiations with Williams for the Algerie Road site.

“The difference in cost for system upgrade between the Lee-Westfield site and the Algerie site are well over a million,” said Town Manager Chris Morris.

Williams Stone powers its granite mill operation with energy from an on-site wind turbine that is smaller than the one proposed for the town.

It is unclear how much Williams will ask for that Algerie Road property. There has been confusion on this point, since the town said it was asking to appropriate the $226,800, what Williams says is the assessed value of the Algerie Road property, but not necessarily the sale price. Williams added that any talk of money is “premature,” and he finds the discussion about pricing “mysterious, since we’ve never discussed it.”

Ed Williams, of Williams Stone, on whose property the town's new wind turbine would be located. Photo: Heather Bellow

Ed Williams, of Williams Stone, on whose property the town’s new wind turbine would be located. Photo: Heather Bellow

Town manager Chris Morris said he would not reveal any fruits of ongoing negotiations. “Suffice it to say we have sufficient funds budgeted for the acquisition.”

Selectboard member Roberta Sarnacki said the language of the voting warrant was “not asking for money itself,” but to get approval to move forward in any way. That includes eminent domain as a last resort. “If a town were committed…and needed that land, under Massachusetts General Law a town can take a piece of land,” Sarnacki said, making a general statement.

“We don’t want to take anybody’s property,” she added.

The project calls for a 40-story wind turbine that would not only take care of the town’s energy needs, but also throw off enough extra to sell to other towns and school districts. It is predicted to save the town $100,000 in utility costs each year, and generate enough income to pay for itself.

While there is widespread support for wind energy near and far, there are critics, particularly those who must live near the whirring apparatus. A New York Magazine article explored a “hodgepodge of maladies” known unofficially as “wind-turbine syndrome,” appearing in some people who live near them, but not all. Physicians can’t tell whether the syndrome is psychological, physiological, or a combination of both.

The General Electric Company is one of the top 10 wind turbine suppliers in the world.

In Otis, Algerie Road resident Barbara Drosnin wrote to The Edge saying, among other things, that second homeowners with homes near the site are not being fairly represented because they cannot vote in town. She also wrote that a “full environmental impact study had not been conducted.”

Energy Committee Chairman Larry Gould said that as part of the project, it was mandatory that a number of issues be studied, including bird migration and other aviary, acoustic sound, and something called “shadow flicker,” which involves a year-long study to pick out moments and times — down to the minutes — when the propellers might cast a shadow. Results from all testing, Gould said, were “within or better than the accepted norm.”

Gould added that the results hadn’t been posted to the town website yet because both he and the town clerk were away, but that information will be available shortly.

Gould also said that at the special town meeting a gentleman told the assembly that an eagle’s nest had been registered within two miles of the site. Gould said he spoke to consultants on Wednesday and, if indeed that is the case, will pursue the issue with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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