SAVOY — Minuteman Wind's original backers are racing to begin construction of a Savoy wind farm before their special permit lapses.
After months of uncertainty about the project's status, an official with Minuteman Wind LLC confirmed Friday the project is a go.
"We believe in it," said Larry Plitch, one of five people who dreamed up the venture 15 years ago. "The project is alive and well."
That news brought dismay to opponents like Kathryn Sternstein of Hawley, who spoke against wind power in public meetings this past year.
"We've all been waiting for something from them," she said of the developers. "It's terribly distressing that despite the real opposition from the people in Savoy, that they're going ahead with this."
"Public sentiment is against this project," said Salvatore Raciti of Savoy.
To keep the venture alive, Minuteman Wind must resume construction by May. That is when the special permit awarded in 2010, and extended for two years in 2016, will expire.
John Tynan, chairman of the Select Board, expressed surprise that the project is attempting to hold on to its special permit, three months before it is due to expire.
"We have not been approached by them at all," Tynan said. "We figured at this point they really aren't doing anything."
In coming months, the most recent public face of Minuteman Wind will be missing.
For the past year, the project has been led by Lindsay Deane-Mayer of Palmer Capital Management of Cohasset.
Last fall, in an attempt to improve the project's electrical output and value, Deane-Mayer rose at a Special Town Meeting to explain why Palmer Capital wanted to boost the height of the five turbines planned for West Hill, near the Hawley line.
The company claimed that after years of delays and environmental reviews, the ideal turbines were no longer available and it needed to reach higher into the sky.
But residents soundly rejected that request, voting 126 to 53 on Sept. 27 not to allow taller turbines. The measure needed a two-thirds majority to change the wind-power bylaw.
Opponents of the Minuteman project then rallied to overturn the town's original 2008 bylaw. On Dec. 21, they voted to prohibit wind power projects of any sort in Savoy.
But the existing special permit, for a project initially valued at $31 million, remained valid.
Plitch said most of the original Minuteman proponents stepped forward to manage the project, after Palmer Capital bowed out for financial reasons.
"Palmer couldn't make it work," Plitch said.
Gordon Deane, president of Palmer Capital, said an internal review by the firm didn't support continuing to be part of Minuteman Wind.
"Palmer is a relatively small company and we decided that our efforts and money were better directed to some other projects we are pursuing," Deane said.
Failure to secure the bylaw change was a setback, Deane-Mayer had acknowledged.
"It's a big puzzle, and all the pieces have to come together," Deane-Mayer said in October. "Everything was coming together. Now, it's spreading apart."
Raciti, the town resident who helped overturn the wind-power bylaw at a Special Town Meeting in December, said public sentiment changed in the decade after the Minuteman project was first approved.
"It's not going to be welcomed into this town," he said. "There is not a person in the town that I know that is going to roll over and play dead on this. This town is not going to sit passively and let this happen."
Backers still believe
Though Palmer Capital opted to back away, Plitch said he and four other initial backers remain convinced of the project's value.
He said that in the months Palmer Capital was in charge, the original proponents stayed involved. Indeed, a group of them attended the Special Town Meeting that discussed allowing the turbine heights to increase.
"We've never been out of it," Plitch said.
The company recently authorized Eversource Energy to begin work on a power interconnection study needed to accommodate the wind farm's electrical output on the grid.
The permit calls for a 12.5-megawatt project. As initially envisioned, each of the 425-foot turbines would be capable of generating 2.5 megawatts of electricity. In all, the installation would produce enough power to supply 2,800 to 3,750 homes, according to standards cited by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
According to the project's website, minutemanwind.com, the venture had expected to submit its interconnection application a year ago and to order turbines in the first six months of 2018.
Plitch declined to say whether Minuteman has placed orders for turbines.
The turbines will be placed on forested hilltop land owned by Harold "Butch" Malloy off Harwood Road. Malloy could not be reached for comment.
Still to be determined: How much the wind farm will pay the town for the right to operate within its borders. Efforts to come to terms with Palmer Capital on a dollar amount stalled last year. The two sides remained far apart on how much the wind farm should contribute in payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT).
Last spring, Palmer had offered a "base figure" of $73,000 in such payments. Years ago, the payment had been estimated at over $200,000 a year.
The town has hired a New Hampshire consultant to help it negotiate a PILOT agreement.
"We will have more to say shortly," Plitch said of the project. "We are hopeful that our relation with the town is strong."