OTIS — Amid a last-minute opposition campaign, voters in the Berkshire County town of Otis decide today whether to borrow $6.4 million to build a 1.7-megawatt municipally owned wind turbine.
The debt exclusion vote will consider a low-interest general obligation bond for the project on land off Algerie Road.
The project has been in the works for four years. Town Meeting voted 82-13 in favor of the project in August, with today's vote being the last, necessary step to approve financing.
The turbine is projected to generate revenue for the town in the amount of $250,000 to $300,000 in the first year of operation, said Otis Administrator Chris Morris, and also supply electricity for local government operations. Otis operates on a municipal budget of about $5.5 million per year, Morris said.
Town buildings and facilities such as the wastewater treatment plant will use about 5 percent of the electricity generated, with the rest sold in the form of renewable energy credits to the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, a group of seven school districts, said Morris.
"It will decrease the supplier charge on their utility bills," he said.
Last-minute opposition has emerged in the form of an anonymous OtisWind website and flyers posted around town. The president of the opposition group Massachusetts WindWise last week wrote a letter to the editor of the Berkshire Eagle charging that Otis town officials have been withholding information from voters.
Morris responded with a letter on the town's website recapping the project, and saying voters "should not be swayed by the sophisticated propaganda campaign of an outside group of individuals" and calling the last-minute critique a "standard practice."
Morris said Tuesday that it's easy to use Google to find examples of wind projects that don't work, but that a successful project already exists within the town's borders.
"We have private wind turbines in Otis that have been generating income for Williams Stone for five years," said Morris on Tuesday, referring to Ed Williams, who owns the property on which the town's turbine would be built.
The proposed Otis Wind project started with a state-funded $65,000 feasibility study, then gained a $400,000 state grant for design and engineering. In May the federal government approved the town's application for a Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB) that will help subsidize the 24-year bond.
The town will pay the principal and 30 percent of the interest at a rate of 1 to 2 percent, the Berkshire Eagle reported in August.
Some residents told the Eagle they opposed the project because they were not convinced the project would be a money-maker, and had concerns about noise and visual impact. Another letter-writer expressed concerns about the health impacts of so-called wind-turbine syndrome, a condition reportedly caused by a strobe light effect produced by the blades.
The administration of former governor Deval Patrick set a goal of 2,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2020.
Polls close in Otis at 7 p.m., said Morris.