Green growth: Small-scale alternative energy projects gain Mass. momentum
The massive offshore wind farms proposed for Nantucket Sound and Buzzards Bay generate most of the headlines. But most of the progress in renewable energy in Massachusetts this year will be seen among much smaller turbine projects.
The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative estimates that 10 wind turbine projects could be built and connected to the grid in 2008. Nearly all of them, however, are just one- or two-turbine projects. Still, when they're complete, the 10 projects would double the number of wind turbine sites in the state.
An even smaller-scale approach is being advocated for solar power. State officials last month expanded a rebate program, setting aside up to $68 million to help businesses and homeowners pay for solar arrays that would be connected to their factories, warehouses, stores and homes.
''In general, the pace for these smaller projects is picking up,'' said Warren Leon, director of the Renewable Energy Trust at the Massachusetts
Technology Collaborative. ''There are more smaller projects that are close to construction.''
Together, the wind turbines on tap for 2008 won't come close to approaching the power that could be generated by Cape Wind Associates' 130-turbine proposal for Nantucket Sound or a smaller wind farm that Quincy construction magnate Jay Cashman wants to build in Buzzards Bay.
However, both of the bigger projects face regulatory and political hurdles. The federal Minerals Management Service is expected to release its draft report on Cape Wind's project, which has been before federal authorities for several years, as soon as this month. Even if the permit process is wrapped up by the end of the year, Cape Wind executives don't expect the controversial project to be completed until the end of 2011 - and litigation could delay the project beyond that date.
Meanwhile, Cashman is awaiting legislative approval that would give him more flexibility to build his project in state waters, which are currently designated as an ocean sanctuary.
But state officials say several dozen smaller projects are in the pipeline - with 10 that are far enough along that they could go online this year - thanks in part to planning grants that the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative has doled out in recent years. Most of the projects are located along the coastline or in the hills of central and western
Massachusetts where the winds are strongest.
Of the 10 projects that could be ready in 2008, Leon said he doubts that all will be online by the end of the year. One major problem, he said, is the availability of turbines.
''There's so much demand for wind turbines around the world at the moment that it's easier for the manufacturers to sell their turbines in big blocks to big projects,'' Leon said. ''It can be hard for the smaller projects to get the turbines they want quickly.''
The technology collaborative, a quasi-public agency, has secured two 1.65-megawatt turbines that are similar to the one that was erected in Hull in 2006. The turbines were originally slated for a two-turbine project in Orleans, but local leaders there eventually scuttled the project. Leon said he expects the turbines will probably be used in Fairhaven instead.
An energy bill that's under debate on Beacon Hill could provide additional incentives that would help the market for wind power. Ian Bowles, Gov. Deval Patrick's secretary for energy and environmental affairs, points to one example: A measure in the energy bill would provide more certainty to wind turbine developers by requiring utilities such as NStar and National Grid to buy a certain portion of their power from renewable plants within the state. Renewable standards already exist for the utilities, but they aren't state-specific and utilities often end up paying fees instead of meeting the
Seth Kaplan, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said utilities are increasingly looking for ways to fully meet the renewable requirements. He cites an arrangement that NStar unveiled last year in which it would allow residential customers to buy power from a wind farm in upstate New York.
Brian Braginton-Smith, president of Community Wind Power LLC in South Yarmouth, said the high cost of land and a lack of zoning rules that specifically address wind power have also hampered the industry's growth here.
Braginton-Smith's firm is helping market rooftop turbines that provide supplemental power to homes and businesses but can cost as much as $10,000 apiece. He said a Christy's Market in West Yarmouth became one of the first businesses in the country to install multiple ''Swift'' brand turbines in November, and Christy's plans to add them to other stores on Cape Cod.
State officials are also encouraging a rooftop-by-rooftop approach for the proliferation of solar power. Large solar projects that serve multiple properties are typically too expensive to be practical in New England.
Secretary Bowles said the state has nearly doubled the amount of money set aside for rebates to install solar panels with the $68 million program that the Patrick administration unveiled last month. State officials expect that over four years, nearly 27 megawatts of solar panels will be installed - enough power for up to 27,000 homes.
Leon said he expects that some of the solar projects could be larger installations, like the 425-kilowatt Brockton Brightfield project. ''If you have enough solar installations, it collectively adds up to something meaningful,'' he said.