Wind turbine sprouts on Allen Farm in Chilmark

Gary Harcourt and Larry Schubert prepare to bolt the turbine to the tower. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Allen Farm off South Road in Chilmark, commonly associated with pastoral scenes of sheep grazing in fields that overlook the Atlantic Ocean, added a new more modern element to the landscape. Late Monday afternoon, a crane operator capped a 120-foot wind turbine tower with a set of 30-foot turbine blades.

Farm owners Mitchell Posin and Clarissa Allen expect the wind turbine to produce twice the energy needs of their farm.

In a telephone conversation Sunday, Mr. Posin said he was very excited that the turbine was about to go up. “We just got back from Ireland, where a friend took us all around, and we saw wind turbines all over the place. I thought they looked majestic,” he said.

The 100-acre Allen Farm overlooks both Chilmark upper pond and a scenic meadow where sheep often graze. The wind turbine tower was constructed with three forty-foot sections and placed close to the center of the farm, with a large buffer between the neighbors’ property lines.

Mr. Posin hoped Great Rock Windpower, the contractor, would complete the job of erecting the turbine in one day. As it turned out, the job was accomplished just before it got dark on Monday. The wiring and other finishing touches were planned for Tuesday.

NStar must make the final connections before the wind turbine can begin to be used to produce electricity. That is expected to occur before the end of the year.

Mr. Posin said Allen Farm previously had a wind turbine in the 1970’s. About four years ago he began talking about its replacement with Gary and Kathryn Harcourt and Larry Schubert, owners of Great Rock Windpower, a small wind energy consulting and installation business that serves Martha’s Vineyard.

Through their company, Mr. Posin and Ms. Allen subsequently purchased a wind turbine manufactured in Surrey, British Columbia, by Endurance Windpower. Mr. Posin said it is the same model as one erected at Morning Glory Farm in June 2010.

“We’re hoping at a minimum it will produce about twice the electricity we use, so we would sell the green electricity,” Mr. Posin said. “We’re negotiating with the Homeport Restaurant. We haven’t finalized anything yet, but we’re hoping they’ll buy our extra juice.”

Grants and benefits

The project has benefitted from various grants and incentives. In July 2009 Allen Farm received a $41,000 grant for a study to determine the feasibility of erecting multiple 900-kW wind turbines to serve its onsite electrical loads as well as the electrical loads created by a proposed community-supported agriculture program.

The wind turbine erected Monday cost approximately $410,000. That figure will be defrayed by a $100,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and a 30 percent federal tax credit that can be spread over ten years, according to Mr. Harcourt.

Mr. Posin said with the incentives received, he figures a payback period of six years for the wind turbine’s investment.

The turbine is rated at 55 kilowatts. The annual energy production from the proposed turbine is expected to be approximately 122,000 kWh and the energy that the farm is expected to consumefor agricultural purposes is approximately 78,000 kWh per year, according to a consultant’s report.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average home in Massachusetts uses 7,416 kilowatt/hours per year.

In a telephone conversation Monday night, Mr. Harcourt said he was very excited about the project and the support of those who watched the turbine go up.

“A great bunch of people came up to watch and there was a nice little gathering at the Allen Farm afterwards,” he said. “It was very nice to see all the positive reaction. I’m sure there will be some negative reaction, and I’m used to it at this point.”

No zoning review

The wind turbine stands from its base to the tip of its highest blade at 149.5 feet. It was not subject to review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact because it just squeaked under the 150-foot threshold that automatically triggers MVC review.

The wind turbine was not subject to local zoning regulations. Lenny Jason, town zoning officer, issued building permits to Allen Farm based on a state agricultural exemption that allows an applicant to bypass local zoning bylaws as long as more than 50 percent of the energy produced by turbines is used for commercial agriculture.

Last January, neighbors argued that Mr. Jason erred when he issued building permits for wind turbines at Allen Farm and Grey Barn Farm under the state’s agricultural exemption.

The neighbors filed two separate petitions appealing Mr. Jason’s decision and asked the zoning board to refer the turbines to the MVC.

The Chilmark selectmen agreed to hire a consulting firm to determine if the turbines met the technical requirements of the exemption. The firm’s report came to the clear conclusion that a majority of the electricity produced by the turbines would be used for farming.

On January 19 at the end of a three-hour public hearing, the Chilmark zoning board of appeals upheld the town building inspector’s decision to issue building permits for the pair of wind turbines

In a separate decision, the zoning board decided not to refer the two turbines to the MVC.