Small Sustainable Funding for the Biggest Impact

wind turbine constructionWhile in the midst of an economy that is still viewed as fragile, state governments are limited in their ability to match all of their sustainability goals with appropriate funding. Money that is available, usually in the forms of grants and favorable loans, is small enough to rule out sweeping, societal changes but large enough to make people notice—and at this point that is a worthy goal. There are still far too many people far too uneducated about both threats and solutions.

Solaya Energy LLC and the State of Massachusetts are working together to install a 1.5 MW turbine near the Blandford Rest Area on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The press release from the governor’s office explains that the nearly 400-foot-tall turbine near the center of the 68-acre state-owned site, as well as a kiosk at the Service Area that will provide motorists with information about the turbine and its operation. Producing up to 3,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, the turbine could produce sufficient clean energy to power roughly 400 households.

Though there is no specific mention of funding sources or cost amounts, the release does note the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust (MRET), a state-sponsored trust for helping to finance renewable energy projects around the commonwealth. Funding for the MRET comes from a fifty cent monthly surcharge on power bills to create a pool of spending cash. It seems reasonable, if not likely, that some form of aid from Massachusetts taxpayers is helping to bring the project to realization. Solaya also undoubtedly will receive federal aid, such as Production Tax Credits that are given per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced in the first ten years or accelerated depreciation for wind turbines to help keep corporate balance sheets in the black.

Clearly, 1.5 MW is only a drop in the bucket of Governor Deval Patrick’s goal for 2,000 MW of wind capacity by 2020 (right now the state is reaching for 30). I saw a similar, but smaller, lone turbine outside of a Costco store in Dedham, MA. The swiftly spinning blades earned glances and smiling nods from shoppers as they arrived or loaded bags into their cars.

So is putting up wind turbines one at a time a good use of taxpayer funds? I think it might be. Again, the dollars in question are minimal in terms of a state budget, spent with the goal of showing a continuing commitment to sustainability. The same funds could likely send out an informational post card to a few hundred thousand voters that no one would read, buy some local broadcast commercial time that no one would watch or take out an ad in the Boston Globe that most would flip through.

Instead, the state is getting a 400-foot-tall icon of sustainability that will be noted by thousands of daily commuters and visitors on one of the most traveled roads in the state. Not to mention, it produces clean power. Technology itself is an educational tool that reminds people of current events, causing them to question necessity and ponder change. For a country that is often quick to react in defense of its own societal norms, having wind turbines become a part of daily routine only strengthens their chances in the future (especially in a state where many are struggling to erect an off shore wind farm near Cape Cod and Nantucket.)

These small infusions of capital can be the foundations of progressive change throughout the country if properly utilized. They should strive for repeated public exposure, enough to help make sustainability be brought into the realm of commonplace.

Photo Credit: