United States

United States

Good earnings tempt townspeople further -- Community wind in action

On one particularly windy day in the American northeast last month, the Hull light board's Vestas 660 kW turbine produced a whopping 12,000 kilowatt hours for the Massachusetts grid, or roughly three times its average generation. Light department head John MacLeod was ecstatic. "It did some decent service," he proudly told a recent light board meeting. What made him particularly happy about getting a triple bang for his wind-investment buck is that it he is trying to sell the idea of a second wind turbine to his townspeople. The extra generation by the first communally owned wind turbine was a timely positive advertisement.

The added kilowatt hours mean additional real dollars in his light board bank account. Earlier this year, MacLeod and the light board signed an agreement with Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, a non-profit organisation in Boston. Mass Energy buys the green energy certificates associated with every kilowatt hour sold to the grid for $0.03/kWh.

So the 8000 extra kilowatt hours turn in an added $240 -- a small-potatoes figure in the world of private energy, but significant in MacLeod's voter/customer world of publicly owned electricity. Every little bit helps push the bottom line from red to black. "We're expecting our first check from Mass Energy, for close to $10,000, soon," MacLeod told his board. Because the town erected the turbine on a publicly owned site, it avoids some of the costs involved in private energy development. Furthermore, the town also wins the EUR 0.18/kWh federal tax credit for wind production. The various sources of income have led MacLeod to musing that by some measures of accounting, the town may actually earn a profit of a penny or two per wind-generated kilowatt hour.

These are giddy days for MacLeod and the light board. They feel they took a risk when they sold the town's electricity consumers on installing the Vestas turbine nearly two years ago. Townspeople were not familiar with wind turbines, but they went along for the ride, based on their faith in MacLeod himself.

No complaints

The economics have played out so well the board seems to be getting a green light to move ahead with plans to build more. Only a few people seem upset, and even their unhappiness is difficult to gauge. At a recent light board meeting, which board members pointedly made open to the public, not one person showed up to complain.

Indeed, the financials look so promising that MacLeod's most annoying problem seems to be coping with the stream of tourists who come to see what is still considered in New England to be a near-magical mode of generating electricity. The town is even hosting international delegations, such as one from the Jamaican Embassy that is considering wind for their Caribbean nation.

Plain curious

MacLeod deals with such commercial visitations, but others on the light board are inclined to take over when it comes to the numerous religious groups, clean energy advocates and just plain curious folks who want to know how a wind turbine works.

"People keep showing up every day, want to see the turbine and ask questions. Hull is leading the way," says MacLeod. "We even have people calling up, booking tours and then telling us when we're going to be there to explain things to them."

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