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The Advocate: New Wind Turbine at Berkshire East Means Significant Savings for the Ski Area

An event to celebrate Berkshire East Ski Area’s new wind turbine was a good opportunity to talk about ecology, meteorology, physics and any number of scientific topics.

But the subject most on organizers’ minds was economics.

"Whether you produce green energy or you use it through our New England GreenStart program, you’re a hero," Mass Energy Consumers Alliance Executive Director Larry Chretien said. "One way you can make yourself better than a hero is to talk to your friends and convince them to be heroes, too. We can have more of these just by getting more people to sign up.

"It’s a supply-and-demand situation. Builders will make more of these things happen if they can have a contract with an organization like us to buy green power. The future is in your hands."

Chretien’s Boston-based nonprofit helped make the future a little bit greener and cleaner by partnering with the ski area to erect a 277-foot high wind turbine at the top of its mountain. The turbine is expected to produce 2.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year -- enough to meet the electricity needs of about 300 homes.

The tower produces about half the electrical output of the 253-foot tower at Jiminy Peak in Hancock, where the owners report about 4.6 million kWh per year -- about half of which is used by the Hancock resort.

In Charlemont, Berkshire East expexts to meet all of its electrical needs with its new turbine. The family resort’s assistant general manager, Jon Schaefer said economics were definitely a factor in the ski area’s decision to move forward with the project.

"I can’t emphasize enough that without groups like the Mass Energy center and (Pittsfield’s) Center for EcoTechnology, we wouldn’t have gotten it done," Schaefer said at the July 9 celebration. "The contract we have with them is critical to us having the turbine in place.

"Since we do have the turbine in place, we were able to lock in our energy prices for the next 25 years at year 2000 electrical prices. Without that, we probably wouldn’t be in business four years from now."

The fact that Berkshire East plans to stay in business is good news for the economy in Charlemont, a town of 1,266 where the ski area is the largest employer.

On a picture-perfect Saturday in early July, Berkshire East was showing off its four-season appeal, doing a steady business offering zipline tours while also hosting the turbine’s "coming out" party, which drew several hundred visitors from across the state.

The event featured a barbecue lunch cooked at the summit by Buckland restaurateur Cliff’s Smokin’ Backyard BBQ and Catering, T-shirt giveaways and interaction with staff from Mass Energy and CET.

Much of that interaction -- and Chretien’s remarks -- focused on promoting the GreenStart initiative.

"We have formed a buyers group where people can say, ‘No,’ to fossil fuels and, ‘No,’ to nuclear power and can say, ‘Yes,’ to wind, solar and hydro," Chretien said. "If you’re a National Grid customer, you can sign up for that, and every month you’ll be charged a little bit extra, 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour, but it’s tax deductible, and we’ll replace the fossil fuels with wind power, solar power and hydropower from products all over Massachusetts."

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average U.S. home consumes about 920 kWh of electricity per month. At that level of consumption, the green power surcharge through GreenStart would be $22.08 per month.

Mass Energy also has an option to match 50 percent of a household’s energy consumption with renewable sources -- a surcharge of 1.25 cents per kWh, or $11.50 per month for an average household.

According to figures from last fall, 75 percent of the New England GreenStart power came from small hydroelectric facilities. Seven percent came from solar installations like the one on the roof of North Adams’ Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Ten percent came from landfill gas. The rest, about 8 percent, came from wind.

Chretien said he wanted to see more wind projects, whether they be multi-turbine "wind farms" like the municipal installation in Princeton or private projects like the one at Berkshire East.

"The reason we emphasize wind power is, we’ve done the analysis, and this is the most affordable zero emission energy source we can have and can have at scale," he said.

In the grand scheme of things, renewables still account for a small fraction of the power consumed in the United States. In New England, we get 30 percent of our power from natural gas, 28 percent from nuclear power and 17 percent from coal, according to Mass Energy. Wind power accounts for less than 1 percent of the energy mix.

As CET Executive Director John Majercak pointed out, building more wind turbines is just one way to change that mix. Another approach: Lower the overall demand for power.

"In addition to buying green power, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that energy efficiency in your home and business is really a key step no matter what kind of power you’re using," Majercak said. "You can get a free energy audit through your utility companies through the Mass Save program.

"I know I did it, and there are huge incentives to insulate your home, to air seal it. It makes it much more comfortable. It saves you a lot of money, and it creates all the benefits we’re talking about."

 

For more information about Mass Energy, visit massenergy.org. For more information about the Center for EcoTechnology, go to cetonline.org. For more information about Berkshire East, visit berkshireeast.com.