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Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Good Wind Blows In Worcester

This article was published in The Valley Patriot as well as on

A Good Wind Blows in Worcester

[Every month the Innovation Valley column explores an economic innovation that either takes place in the Merrimack Valley or is relevant to it. The following article by my colleague James Moreau explores an important achievement in Worcester we can all learn from. - sji]

"In addition to the economic benefits that wind power affords, the installation of this wind turbine is an opportunity to implement our responsibility to be a good steward of the earth."
- Holy Name High School President, Mary E. Riordan

Driving North on Route 146 into Worcester an unusual site has residents talking about the one of the city's newest renewable energy developments located on the property of Holy Name High School. The 242 foot tall, 600-kilowatt wind turbine is visible for miles from many parts of the city. Currently operational, the wind turbine is expected to provide most of Holy Name's electric power year-round, making Holy Name one of the most energy neutral schools in the world. During the winter, some electricity may be purchased off of the grid, but during the summer the school is expected to sell electricity back to the grid. Tax credits will also be sold to individuals and organizations whose contributions have helped fund the project. The massive wind turbine on a hill serves as a beacon for the Central Massachusetts region attempting to make a turn towards the new, sustainable economy that other parts of the country have already begun embracing.

The President of Holy Name High School, Mary Riordan, was faced with a problem many Americans are familiar with; the rising cost of fuel and energy. Crude oil and gasoline prices have forced many to drive less and will probably force those who use oil to heat their homes to keep a cooler house during the winter. Even electricity costs are bound to continue to rise due to the inefficient coal fired power plants producing much of the country’s energy. The financial squeeze is officially on and there is a wave of innovators in the United States as well as around the world who are thinking up ways to confront the conundrum of fueling our lives with non-renewable, dirty, carbon-based chemicals.

Natural resources and enthusiasm are good starting points for a solid renewable energy economy to take foot, but with the high initial cost of establishing and growing a business, strong public awareness and policy are necessary to fund good ideas. Each state, including Massachusetts has a particular geographic or social asset that can be exploited with renewable energy. People associate places like California and Arizona with a lot of sun and heat, but Massachusetts is currently having a wave of solar manufacturers and installers set up shop and open themselves up to the Northeast energy market. There are also certain parts of Massachusetts, as well as most other East Coast states that have a great proximity to wind patterns that are perfect for wind turbine electricity generation, such as hilly Worcester.

The proliferation of windmills in Denmark and solar cells in California are examples of proven policy and business models that have inspired communities around the world to explore their own suitability for renewable power. Worcester's main apparent strength lies in its location within a relatively windy and hilly geographic area. Additionally, Worcester has 11 colleges and universities within its county limits - a concentration of academic resources in the Northeast region is second only to Boston.

Mary Riordan's vision of erecting a wind turbine would not have been as easy without the students of WPI helping to assess the project's feasibility. Additionally, the $575,000 in grants that were secured from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative was only a fraction of the total cost. The rest of the money was donated or loaned at low interest by the local municipality, individuals or non-profits supporting Holy Name.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has made way for tax incentives to be offered to more renewable energy companies than ever before. Residential tax incentives have also been extended to homeowners who wish to use solar or wind power in whichever ways they can. These sorts of tax programs that encourage economic development in the green sectors help everybody in the long run. Businesses such as Borrego Solar, originally operating out of California have come to the east coast to set up shop and opened their first regional office in Chelmsford.

These business opportunities are also leading to exciting job training and educational opportunities. The massive shift in infrastructures and skill base will need to be met with a whole new force of “green collar” workers. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is currently working with vocational high schools and community colleges across the state to develop and support green technology and renewable energy curriculum.

A decade ago, few Worcester residents would have imagined a wind turbine being erected on one of its high schools campuses to lower energy costs in a clean and efficient way. Now with business and individual interest peaking, legislators must get to work to make way for a renewable energy economy. Marybeth Campbell, the Public Education Coordinator at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative believes there are a lot of exciting instances of renewable technology happening in Massachusetts but also stressed, “policy plays a major role in attracting renewable companies to Massachusetts.”

[To contact the author, email]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely awesome article (how's that for alliteration?). You know, despite Atlantic City's many misfortunes, one thing it does have going for it is its wind farm. Glad to see that a school is now incorporating this technology - hope they're setting a precedent for other institutions to do the same :)