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Heather Bellow
The wind turbine that provides electricity for the operation of Williams Stone Company in East Otis, Massachusetts, dominates the firm's yard. The company had donated adjacent property to the town of Otis for a much larger turbine that would have supplied enough power -- and then some -- for the operation of the town.

Power company fees could jeopardize town turbine project

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By Wednesday, Sep 30, 2015 News 14

East Otis — Deep in the woods here, where wild turkeys conduct busy roadside affairs and where the occasional moose steps out to the sound of screeching tires, the colors turn from the greens and reds of fall to shades of gray at the end of a dirt road, where a company that supplies granite curbing to everyone west of Worcester makes twice its own electricity and adds the runover to the power grid.

Williams Stone Company, Inc. sits on 30 acres “carved out of the wilderness,” as C.E.O. Edwin Williams put it, and fuels its quarrying and stonecutting operation with one continuously running wind turbine that after 6 years of operation has already paid for its $1.7 million price tag. It is a small turbine — small by today’s standards.

A ride around the site in Williams’ pickup reveals row after row of granite slabs; it’s hard to fathom the weight loads involved in this enterprise. The Lee native says he’s done it all in this trade as long as he can remember, working with his father since “before kindergarten.”

The $20 million a year company — “granite by the foot or by the mile” — is a part owner of a vast quarry in Georgia, which supplies 96 percent of the company’s granite, and hauls 400 tons a day, 900 miles by rail, to Westfield before it is trucked to East Otis. Here it is cut and sent as far away as Ohio and Virginia. Closer to home, Great Barrington’s Main Street now sports the Georgia granite variety. The 100-year-old quarry at company headquarters here is comparatively small —this one goes deeper and deeper, and continues, in a Mines of Moria fashion.

The entrance to the Williams Stone Company quarry in East Otis. Photo: Heather Bellow

The entrance to the Williams Stone Company quarry in East Otis. Photo: Heather Bellow

Williams, whose parents Lester Williams and Verna Stone started the company in 1947, says the turbine fits the company’s commitment to self-containment. The company is now owned by its 45 employees and doesn’t take on debt, which means, for instance, that when the turbine’s recommended gearbox replacement comes up in the next five years or so, the company will shell out for the upgrade, which Williams says he guesses will cost around $225,000. More than half the maintenance, he added, is done by Williams Stone employees.

“We run on cash,” he said.

When Gov. Deval Patrick was in office, he had a grand tour. “I thought he was just going to make a speech,” Williams said, “but he wanted to see everything. It was unforgettable that he took the time.”

A photo of the Williams Stone quarry in 1974.

A photo of the Williams Stone quarry in 1974.

Two men are manning large computer monitors, in what looks like a control room in the “office.” Beyond it are hard-hat signs and the sounds of machinery. In the conference room, the walls are hung with granite samples and photos of the two quarries from which they come. Engineering plans lay open on the glass table. A dry erase board is filled with quotes, including one from Bill Gates: “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces men into thinking they can’t be wrong.”

Today the turbine is still; it needs preventative work and a repair. In the morning fog it looms eerily; its height is jarring until you get used to it. And it is planted right in the middle of the company’s 30 acres. Williams said it wasn’t a decision to put it in the center, but that’s just how it turned out. He said deciding to get a turbine was like getting married. “We figured it was the right thing to do.” He thinks he chose wisely.

“What mechanical in your life runs continuously, except when the wind doesn’t blow?” Williams said.

“It’s high tech and that scares us. But it’s done a good job so far.”

Good, indeed. There’s no electricity bill. Williams says his company could run on the equivalent of two large highway truck engines. Power beyond what is used is “gravy train,” he added. And the company has a $40,000 utility credit that can be used at some point. “I can apply it to my home bill,” Williams said, as an example. But Williams said the company plans to let it accumulate.

Williams wishes there were more turbines. “What are your options if consumption of electricity increases?” he said, ticking off methods that are now considered unpopular and unsustainable.

Then there are those who don’t want to see or hear a humming turbine in their backyards, even though lots of people come up to the company to have a look at the one here, Williams said. He says turbines need to be sited properly, and that the overall benefit outweighs most complaints by “a certain subversive group that is opposed to any project.”

Ed Williams in his office, gesturing to an aerial view of the Williams Stone operations.

Ed Williams in his office, gesturing to an aerial view of the Williams Stone operations.

But your average small town crank is nothing compared to the power company, which Williams says “doesn’t like turbines.” Yet to use a turbine, you have to connect to their grid.

These are thorny brambles to hack through. And according to Williams, the Town of Otis has found itself in Prince Charming’s shoes with it’s $6.4 million turbine project — voted on in early August by an 83-12 margin — to put in a giant turbine – far larger than the turbine now at Williams Stone — to run the town and throw off enough extra to sell it to a bunch of other towns and school districts. It was predicted to save the town $100,000 annually and generate enough income to pay for itself.

“I gave the town property next to this one,” Williams said of his donation of 36 acres right next to the Williams Stone property. “It’s a perfect spot, good wind.”

Williams goes on to say that Eversource, the power company whose grid Otis will hook into, is making it “so difficult…artificially expensive” for the town, that the project is now on the rocks. Williams said he thought that Eversource was going to charge the town an excessive amount to get hooked to the grid.

“It’s tragic for something this good,” he said. He said the town should “duke it out” with Eversource.

Eversource is the result of a merger. Three years ago Northeast Utilities and its operating companies Connecticut Light & Power, Public Service of New Hampshire, Western Massachusetts Electric and Yankee Gas merged with NSTAR Electric & Gas.

Otis Building Inspector Larry Gould is also Chairman of Otis’ Energy Committee. He said he was unable to comment because of ongoing negotiations with Eversource.

Eversource spokesperson Priscilla Ress explained the situation from the corporate tower.

“When anyone wants to generate power and connect to the grid, that customer is required by the DPU (Department of Public Utilities) to pay for any modification to the system in order for them to send power to the grid through our electric lines.” Ress said that in Otis, for example, a stand alone wind turbine “will be exporting most of that power, so we have to look at that circuit and make sure that the power can be fed safely through the lines.

The Williams Stone Company wind turbine is located in the center roof the company's operations.

The Williams Stone Company wind turbine is located in the center of the company’s operations. Photo: Heather Bellow

“Any project of this size will need new equipment. And it is expensive to build changes to the existing distribution system. The customer has to pay for extensive studies and construction costs.” Ress said that there are rules and a tariff that applies to those feeding the grid, and “it requires the customer to pay these costs because the costs can’t be paid by other rate payers who don’t benefit from a customer owner generation facility.

Ress said that because the Otis turbine will be so much larger than the one at Williams Stone, it will have to handle more of what in power company parlance is known as “load.”

“They’re running wild,” Williams said of the power companies. “They don’t have to answer to anyone.”

At the Statehouse today, there was a hearing to consider a wide range of energy-related bills. Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts, said that “Massachusetts has long been a leader in the fight against global warming.

“The good news is that these solutions are at our fingertips. Solar, wind, and energy efficiency are already helping to reduce our carbon emissions, and they are growing rapidly. With the right policies in place, we can meet a large portion of Massachusetts’ energy needs from clean, renewable sources within the next few years.”

If people want to keep consuming power at increasing rates, Williams said, turbines are here to stay.

“If you want to drag your feet,” he added, “you’re going to get run over.”

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14 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Michael Forbes Wilcox says:

    Nicely written. I love the opening paragraph.

    It’s a shame, though, to hear that bureaucratic nonsense may get in the way of the Otis project. We need more renewable energy. Badly. And if it costs a bit more, so be it. I, for one, would be willing to pay part of the cost of hooking such turbines to the grid. Better that than paying more because the price of natural gas has gone up, as we did last year. Otis shouldn’t be punished for doing something that is good for the environment.

  2. peter greer says:

    Power companies are antiquated heavily regulated utilities that were put in place to deal with fossil fuel generated electricity and making sure when you flip the switch in your home stuff turns on . Distributed energy , in this case from the turbines in Otis don’t fit into their existing infrastructure. Its the catch 22 of renewable energy and the existing grid, and energy pros understand that the utility must be a collaborator and partner in the process. It should not be a surprise that their are set up costs associated with this type of project , There are solutions to the initial cost issues and between the project manager/town , utility and our local politicians this deal should be hammered out. We all want and need more clean energy and just like the electrons that it generates need to find the collaborative path of least resistance

  3. Barbara Drosnin says:

    A new vote is coming up in Otis on October 6th.

    There has been much misunderstanding about the turbine in Otis, fueled by outside interference by an anti-wind group, minimal information of changes from the town as the project progresses, and a population that does not want to vote openly about this highly charged proposal.

    To set the record straight:

    *The cost of hooking the turbine to the grid on the land donated was more than the town could afford. This is why the turbine location was changed, to save money on the hook-up.
    *The new site is in a rural residential area where there are a minimum of 27 homes or properties situated in pristine forest.  At least five of these homes are less than half a mile from where the turbine is proposed to be built.
    *Of the 27 households and properties across the road from the turbine, 99% cannot cast a vote concerning the proposed turbine because they are second home owners. The people most impacted by this project will have no say.
    *The town of Otis has not done a full environmental impact study.  We, the voters, are left not knowing how clear cutting two acres of forest is going to affect the wildlife, the birds and bats, the trees, or the water surrounding the two acres that abut where this turbine will be. How can a forty story industrial turbine not impact on just about everything within several of miles of it?

    The vote on October 6th is an opportunity for Otis voters to either approve or deny the town’s request. Please, Otis voters, come to Town Hall on October 6th to vote.  This is your town, this is your decision.  Don’t let a ‘quorum’ of 15 people determine the fate of our town.  

    Barbara Drosnin
    1955 Algerie Road
    East Otis, MA 01029


  4. Heather Bellow says:

    Today Mr. Williams told The Edge that the land was, indeed, donated, and the town still owns it. But because of an excessive charge of a quarter million dollars to hook the turbine to the grid on that parcel, that parcel cannot be used. Mr. Williams is now working with the town to sell them a different property for the turbine, but as they are still working on it, the price is unknown.

    Mr. Gould confirmed that the October 6 vote is to determine whether to allow the town to move forward in acquiring a different piece of land.

    1. Barbara Drosnin says:

      The initial land, near the quarry, was donated. The new piece of property, on Algerie road, is not being donated, it is being sold to the tune of $250,000 to the town. This switch of property occurred over three months ago. Your article is misleading as it seems to say that the site on Lee Westfield is still the site for the turbine. It is not.; that the property on which the turbine is going to be located is donated. It is not. The only current information in your article yesterday is that the cost of hooking up the turbine even on Algerie Road, is going to be beyond what the town can pay.

      1. Heather Bellow says:

        Hi Barbara. Ed Williams and Larry Gould would not confirm on-record that a new, undetermined site for the turbine is being sold to the town for $250,000, since they are still working on both finding the right property and on the price. When it all washes out, or when those involved are ready to talk, I promise to report the outcome.

  5. Mark says:

    “Second home owners can’t vote here” it’s not their primary residence. Many reasons why. Don’t want to give up rent stabilized apartments in NYC. Like being a resident of Florida and lower taxes. Whats with all the complaining about stuff after the fact? Let’s leave areas status quo… Then when they turn into ghost towns we can go somewhere else. CHANGE is good. If you’re not happy then do something about it. We need alternatives to these monopolies (power, cable companies, etc.) with choices it keeps them from razing rates irrationally. Tired of the it’s ok.. Just NOT IN MY BACKYARD.

    1. Chris Kapsambelis says:

      I trash renewables because all the evidence shows that they fail to deliver on any of their promise:
      • They are not environmentally friendly.
      • They do not reduce greenhouse gases.
      • In addition to being very expensive, they are an add-on to our system for providing eclectic power.
      • They are a net job loser.
      • Large numbers of birds and bats are dying for nothing.
      • They cannot and will not replace coal.
      • Coal and nuclear is being replaced by new natural gas pipelines to accommodate wind variability.
      • The coal will go to China to create worse world pollution.
      • The high cost will not decrease in time.
      • The money wasted on wind can better be spent researching for real alternatives
      The annoyance and ill effects they cause in Falmouth, Fairhaven, Kingston, Scituate and elsewhere in the world is for nothing in return.
      You cannot trade the health of wind turbine abutters for those affected by coal.
      Call me NIMBY but still, wind is not the answer!

  6. Barbara Drosnin says:

    Heather, we are voting on October 6th to purchase the site on Algerie Road for close to or over $250,000. You can look at the notice to the town issued by the Town Of Otis a couple weeks ago. bd

    1. Heather Bellow says:

      Will do, Barbara. Thank you.

  7. Janet Sinclair says:

    My name is Janet Sinclair. I live in Shelburne Falls. I was informed about your wind project in some round about way. I am not an anti wind group. In Shelburne Falls, we were in favor of a big turbine project before we were against it. The local press, the Governor, our legislators and Mass CEC were all in favor of wind turbines for our town. I consider them to all be “outside” influences” and Mass CEC was handing money to the developer for feasibility studies and other services and funding that would never happen for most other private business ventures. Those who became opposed spoke out and were ridiculed, and I would say almost censored in public meetings.But we kept putting information in front of voters. The information we gave was no more or less slanted than what the powers that be were saying. So we had at least two sides of the story. Otis is now in such a vulnerable situation because you voted to allow the financing of the turbine (who knows if more are planned), you have no local bylaws to protect you, and let’s be clear: there are little to no health or environmental protections for you at the state or federal level. Anow your local officials can pretty much put the turbine(s) wherever they want to. If you don’t want to learn more about why the towns around me voted in bylaws that prohibit large scale wind, then you will make an uninformed decision and believe me, you will be forced to live with any negative consequences. One thing’s for sure, I am not a NIMBY. Good luck to you all.

  8. Chris Kapsambelis says:

    Most of the article is based on misconceptions spread widely by the wind industry. The electricity we use is normally scheduled for generation the day before, and distributor companies like Eversource must purchase the power in advance. There is no way for Eversource or anyone else to know how much electricity the Otis Wind turbine will generate in advance, therefore utilities purchase power that has to be discarded whenever the wind turbine starts cranking out power. This raises the overall cost of electricity, and it is a well known fact that the savings that accrue to wind turbine owners are the result of cost shifting to ratepayers in the surrounding community.

    The costs to Eversourc for connecting the wind turbine to the grid are real. If the owners do not pay for them, the rest of us will.

  9. Frank Haggerty says:

    The crane alone for a gear box replacement is $150,000.00 for a three day minimum. The blades need to be inspected when they come down. If any one single blade needs replacement they all get changed. Take a look at the Portmouth, Rhode Island High School. They had a 1.5 megawatt AAER wind turbine it failed in 2012 after 2 years .It’s still there broken today. Rebuilt gear boxes run around $600,000.00 blades around 1 million each — In general local towns can’t manage a commercial wind turbine 24/7. They leave out maintenance costs and insurance -The wind industry has switched to direct drive wind turbines because of fires in the 200 gallon motor .The direct drive turbines are still experimental

  10. Janet Sinclair says:

    Revolt: Vermont town votes 274-9 against giant wind turbines

    October 2, 2015


    This is what happens when a community is informed. I am sad to see that Ms. Drosnin referred to my individual efforts as the work of an anti- wind “group” that were intended to inform the residents of Otis, as a significant cause of confusion for voters. For that, look to your town officials and Mass Clean Energy Center, whose mission it is to support the wind industry with money we are forced to give them every time we pay an electric bill. Both hope that you will remain ignorant of the risks to the well being of your town and your wildlife resources. You owe it to the neighbors of the proposed wind turbine(s) to do your homework before you vote yet again to support this bad project.

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