Wind turbine energy plan at Northern Pines


A wind turbine project proposed at Northern Pines Farm in Tisbury, designed to provide energy for several Island farms, received a $40,000 grant last week from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust (MRET).

The Large On-site Renewables Initiative (LORI) grant will fund a feasibility study for the project, including the installation of a meteorological (MET) tower to measure wind speed and direction for one year.

The project proposed by applicant John Packer, the owner of Northern Pines Farm, calls for installing one or several 900-kilowatt wind turbines, up to 270 feet tall, on his 42-acre property, located between Lambert’s Cove Road and the west side of Lake Tashmoo.

The goal of the project is to generate enough power from wind energy for use at Northern Pines Farm and to “assign” extra power produced to other Island farms.

“This concept of using a wind turbine, or several, on one farm to serve other farms is unique and has received extraordinary support of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources [MDAR],” consultant Brian Nelson of Nelson Mechanical Design said in a press release about the LORI Grant last week.

“This ability to send electricity from one farm to other farms makes the Massachusetts Electric Farm Model possible – a concept in which farmers with greenhouses could receive electricity from a remote wind turbine on another farm at a long-term reduced rate,” Mr. Nelson wrote.

He already has received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to install a 165-foot MET tower at the Northern Pines Farm site.

In addition, Mr. Nelson noted, “Preliminary analysis indicates that the FAA would approve wind turbines up to 270 feet tall on the Northern Pines Farm site.” That height is measured from the ground to the tip of a blade at the top of its rotation, Mr. Nelson explained in a phone call Tuesday, adding that a wind turbine that size will definitely have a visual impact.

By way of comparison, the proposed wind turbine’s height falls between that of the Island Home ferry upended, at 255 feet, and the MVY Radio tower, at about 285 feet tall, according to the station’s staff.

Mr. Nelson said architect Bruce McNally will be creating photo visualizations to give people an idea of what one or several 270-foot wind turbines would look like from different viewpoints around the farm.

The decision to erect one or several large wind turbines of that size would be based on the number of Martha’s Vineyard’s approximately 21 farms that ultimately are assigned power from Mr. Packer’s project and their electrical loads, Mr. Nelson said.

After speaking with Douglas W. Petersen, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, about the farm wind turbine project last fall, Mr. Nelson received a follow-up letter from him expressing his support in mid-November.

“The proposal seems most fitting,” Mr. Petersen wrote, citing Mr. Nelson’s description of a possible collaborative wind turbine effort, using Northern Pines Farm and Thimble Farm as two Island examples.

Mr. Petersen also included an opinion from his department regarding the applicability of Massachusetts General Law (MGL) as it relates to wind turbines used for commercial agriculture. Because of the protections afforded agriculture under MGL, Chapt. 40A, “In essence, Section 3 prevents a local general or zoning by-law from prohibiting, unreasonably regulating, or requiring a special permit for activities on land used for commercial agriculture,” Mr. Petersen wrote.

Tisbury building and zoning inspector Ken Barwick said in a phone call Tuesday that he is seeking legal advice from town counsel David Doneski regarding the appropriateness of recognizing wind turbines as farm structures.

“I am not totally one hundred percent convinced, if you will, that that type of power generation would be exempted from local zoning ordinances, nor that it would be exempted from Mass General Law, or protected, I should say, from Mass General Law requirements,” Mr. Barwick said.

While everything Mr. Packer and Mr. Nelson talked to him about seemed logical in terms of what they want to do regarding the farm and agricultural use, Mr. Barwick said the obstacle for him is the stanchions and turbines for power generation. “That makes up the majority of my questions that I have for legal counsel, which I am anxiously awaiting for them to get back to me about,” he said.

Siting Island wind turbines is difficult, as the Martha’s Vineyard Wind Energy (MVWE) website explains. Because Martha’s Vineyard’s Airport is centrally located, the FAA’s limitations on turbine height greatly restrict the size of wind turbines allowed on a large portion of Martha’s Vineyard. The other main constraint on wind turbine size is transportation through Five Corners in Vineyard Haven, which would be limited to a 600 to 900 kW turbine.

The MVWE website also notes that the Northern Pine Farms project, combined with the passage of the State’s Green Communities Act (GCA) of 2008 last July, “provided the MDAR with the test case they needed to develop their support of connecting farms with wind turbines.”

“What’s exciting is that the state sees us as a pilot project,” Mr. Nelson said. “I really want to build support on Martha’s Vineyard for this concept. We’d love to have this project be a model of sustainability for Massachusetts and to have farmers across the state look at this to help them stay in business.”

Mr. Nelson said the goal is to connect all of the Martha’s Vineyard farms together, possibly by forming a wind co-op. “The LORI grant only funds us to do consultation – it won’t fund us to buy anything,” Mr. Nelson explained. “It’s a feasibility study, so nobody’s losing money or risking anything.”

In addition to wind data analysis, the feasibility study will address the project’s economic, regulatory, environmental, and electric interconnection issues. Figuring out who will own and pay for the turbines, which cost about $2 million each, is part of the process, Mr. Nelson said.

“We’re just at the permitting and exploration stage,” he emphasized. “There are no commitments at this point to do anything, other than to study it.”

“We didn’t want to sign onto it until we got the Department of Agriculture’s support,” Mr. Nelson added. “If we didn’t have the Green Communities Act, we could have put up an enormous turbine but we would have to sell the power to NSTAR wholesale, and the other farms would have to buy the power at retail.”

The GCA requires NSTAR to deliver the power from a wind turbine such as the one Mr. Packer proposes to any NSTAR account the turbine owner designates, for free. The GCA will allow a small number of renewable energy projects, such as wind turbines, into a quota for participation in net metering and power assignment.

However, the quota currently set by state law is one percent of NSTAR’s peak load, about 50 kW, which has to be shared throughout the utility’s territory statewide.

Mr. Nelson attended a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities hearing in Boston on October 30, to present written and verbal comments regarding net metering and power assignment for wind turbines on Martha’s Vineyard. His written comments and information about net metering, power assignment, and wind energy also are available on the MVWE’s website.