HAWLEY — After an 11-year process, Minuteman Wind LLC will break ground this month to build five 2.5 megawatt wind turbines on a high ridge in Savoy.
The turbines, on a 293-acre privately owned site, will be 425 feet tall and less than 1,000 feet away from the Hawley town border, on West Hill Road.
“There are strong opponents of this wind turbine project in Hawley,” said John Sears, Hawley’s Selectmen’s chairman. “The plan is for it to be erected close to the town line, so it will have a significant impact on some Hawley residents.”
Sears said Hawley has its own Wind Facility Bylaw that restricts the height of wind turbines to less than 200 feet. “But this does not have the power to require approval for wind turbines sited on Hawley’s borders or apply conditions on their height or set backs — despite the impact they will have on residents and property owners in the town.”
Speaking as a private resident and not for the Selectboard, Sears said, “This is a defect in current law relating to the siting of wind turbines and would have to be remedied on the state level.
Sears said the Savoy project could “have a negative effect on property values in its vicinity (and on Hawley’s tax base) — since no one would choose to live close to such turbines. It is unfortunate that neighboring towns have little say on the siting of wind turbines close to their borders.”
Lloyd Crawford, co-owner of the 450-acre Stump Sprouts ski and resort area, said Savoy had issued a special permit to Minuteman Wind LLC in 2010, but that the company “proceeded at a glacial pace” to secure a wetlands permit.
As a property abuttor, Crawford said he was notified of the plan during Savoy’s special permit process, which he has been following for nine years. Crawford, who is Hawley’s Planning Board chairman, said he and other affected residents attended hearings but believes their comments were ignored. “We contributed extensive information,” he said. “It was ignored by the Savoy (Zoning Board of Appeals). They never discussed it. And I have no vote in Savoy.”
Crawford said he is concerned about the roads to be traveled by the heavy trucks carrying wind turbine components and thousands of truckloads of gravel and cement. Also, he said, the project will only provide less than 1 percent of electricity used in Massachusetts.
“It will require the fragmenting of one of the largest blocks of undisturbed forest in western Massachusetts,” he said. “This project is about money — not about saving the environment.”
“And then there’s the well-documented noise issues,” he said. “I’m convinced about 200 acres of our land will become undevelopable for residential use in the future.”
After Crawford refused to give proponents permission to do sound tests on his land, he said the consultants determined ambient noise by doing a sound check in a time of greater-than usual noise, during a nighttime melt of heavy snows and animal activity. By law, the turbines can cause a 10 percent decibel rise above the normal noise level of an area.
But Steve Weisman, vice president of Minuteman Wind LLC, disagrees with Crawford’s perspective.
“He’s an abuttor,” Weisman said of Crawford. “Actually, they did appeal our wetlands permit, so there is a process. They’ve (the Hawley residents) already been successful making requests for changes that we’ve responded to.”
Weisman said the state Department of Environmental Protection now has a “superceding order of conditions” that has set a continuation for part of the permitting process to satisfy complaints from Hawley.
“Perhaps the new news is we’ve addressed their wetlands concerns,” said Weisman.
On questions concerning turbine noise, Weisman said all noise issues have been submitted to the state and the project has a Massachusetts EPA certificate.
According to Weisman, the five wind turbines will produce about 30,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year, with a lease agreement to operate for 20 years. The electricity is to go onto the grid.
Savoy, a town of roughly 700 residents, and much state forest land, will see at least $100,000 in annual tax revenues from the turbines under a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement.
According to Minuteman Wind’s website, the project will be visible along several roads in Savoy, but not from Hawley Center. Although the project will be visible from Mount Greylock, at that distance, the turbines on the horizon will appear to be less than a half-inch tall.