Windstill – The Windmill that doesn’t seem to Churn

The windmill across from Chelsea Creek looks good, but it doesn't appear to provide much in the way of energy.

In Mill Hill where the United States Government used to print its money, and visible in many parts of lower Revere, the blades of the gigantic Forbes Park windmill sit idle.

The electricity-generating machine doesn’t appear to be working, and from what we gather, it never really had many days of operation. It’s been sitting idle for the better part of two years, just as the large residential project attached to it has stalled and appears not to have a future any time soon.

The windmill was supposed to power the entire development and also sell electricity to the grid.

It was the way of the future, and the state invested heavily in the windmill, but apparently didn’t see the need to make sure that the investment actually reaped any dividends.

The Gov. Deval Patrick administration believed in the project so much that they sunk a $500,000 grant into its design and construction. That was money that came from the state’s Renewable Energy Trust Fund, and that money just does not appear out of thin air – or even wind-blown air.

In fact, it is a surcharge levied on electricity ratepayers. Every month, those who pay electric bills pay a certain portion into the state fund for renewable energy. A state agency that controls that fund – now the Clean Energy Center (CEC) – analyzes potential investments.

And if you think that the Forbes Park windmill is going to hand back its state grant money, think again. Apparently, the windmill only needs to be built, and doesn’t ever need to actually work.

As long as it continues to be a pretty picture, then no harm, no foul.

“The grant was only for the design and construction of the windmill,” said Kate Plourd of the CEC. “Now that it’s been done and constructed and built, it’s really the end of it. There’s really no taking the money back…This grant was specifically for building the turbine and because it’s been completed, we can’t take anything back.”

She said the only requirements of the grant were to design and build the windmill, and there were no stipulations that it ever had to work – let alone power the new Green Economy.

She did say the program that awarded the grant no longer exists, and that now they do have performance standards in some of their programs.

Plourd also indicated that if the windmill were to begin generating power for a profit, without providing energy to the Forbes Park development, then the state would have to assess the situation.

For now, though, it’s kind of a dusting of the hands, and really just a waste of money – a large investment in an idea that was shaky at best and that pursued – at least in this state – a politically acceptable outcome.

This windmill was the epitome of the Green Economy in this area, and came to symbolize what we were to believe was the wave of the future, but it really has become a Don Quixote metaphor where certain political philosophies were chased at the expense of common sense; in other words, off chasing windmills instead of realistic energy policy.

The state’s energy policy is abysmal, and it’s a policy that is the most important issue facing us right now.

We have invested in only parts of the overall equation – and parts that are really only second-tier to larger ideas. No wind farm or solar array is going to make a realistic dent in the ultra-high price of energy in Massachusetts. We’d all love to think that windmills and energy efficiency are going to blow us into a future where there are no electricity bills, but it’s not realistic.

Former directors of the state’s energy cabinet have mentioned more than once to me that we’re poised to be an energy leader due to our investment in solar, wind and energy efficiency. However, we still have some of the highest electricity bills in America. These are simply ideas that the administration loves to love, and they do little to fix the problem.

The reality is that reducing energy costs is going to have to come in combination with things that aren’t politically expedient around here – things like clean coal, temporary expanded oil drilling within our borders, and nuclear reactors.

Otherwise, we are just financing an ill-advised chasing of political windmills so that pretty pictures can be taken and we can all feel better about the planet as we chew on our Granola bars.

That philosophy, though, isn’t exactly turning any turbines around Revere or Chelsea.

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