Wind-turbine paperwork bewilders permit applicants

EAST FALMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS - Ron Smolowitz knows paperwork. Smolowitz needs more than 90 permits and licenses to operate his 20-acre farm in East Falmouth.

But even for Smolowitz, the application for grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase and install a 10-kilowatt wind turbine seemed over the top. "Our application was 113 pages long," Smolowitz said. "I've never ever been exposed to a paperwork system like the USDA."

That's why representatives with the agency's rural development renewable energy and energy efficiency programs suggest potential grant applicants plan ahead for this year's grants. Although a specific application schedule for this year's grants will not be available until it is published in the Federal Register, once it is announced the time frame for submissions could be as short as 45 days, said Tom McGarr, area director for USD Rural Development in southeastern Massachusetts.

"It doesn't allow for a lot of time," he said. Anyone who wants a shot at the money should get organized now, he said. The USDA will hold a seminar on the grants from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 6 at the Cape Cod Cranberry Experiment station in East Wareham. In the past two years, four businesses on Cape Cod have received $418,800 as part of the program.

Across the state less than half that amount - $161,851 - was distributed to other projects during the same time period. To participate, applicants must make at least 50 percent of their income from agricultural production or qualify as a small business in a rural area, McGarr said.

Most of the Cape is considered rural, and the high wind resources on the peninsula make the area ideal for wind turbines, he said. But, despite the paperwork and the time crunch, the program is worth it, Smolowitz and others said. Grants provide 25 percent of a project's cost up to $500,000. Response locally indicates the money is attractive enough to make it worth the extra effort.

The largest grant recipient was Webb Research Corporation in East Falmouth, which was awarded a $300,000 grant in 2007. Coupled with money from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the federal grant made the company's proposed 1.5-megawatt turbine possible, company president Daniel Webb said.

Mann Farms of Buzzards Bay was awarded $46,250 by the USDA but did not get an MTC grant. Plans for a 90-kilowatt turbine there have been indefinitely postponed, owner Keith Mann said. But Mann agreed with Webb and Smolowitz that the staff at the local USDA office in West Wareham made the process easier than it otherwise might have been.


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