There won’t be any wind energy generated in Swampscott, at least not in the foreseeable future.
The town’s density makes it impossible to locate a wind turbine tower anywhere here because of state regulations that prohibit the towers anywhere in the commonwealth within 1,000 feet of a residence, Tara Gallagher of the Swampscott Renewable Energy Committee informed selectmen last week.
If there’s any such place in town, it’s not high enough to be workable, she added later in an interview.
Gallagher and the Renewable Energy Committee recently investigated the possibility of locating a wind tower in Swampscott but were stymied by the 1,000-foot regulation, Gallagher said.
“That was not noted anywhere in the literature we first obtained,” she explained.
“And you’ve probably seen wind turbines next to I-93, clearly within 1,000 feet of residences, but that’s because there is one exception: Towers can be located closer to homes but only if the noise they produce isn’t more than 10 decibels above the background noise.”
Next to I-93, traffic noise provides enough background noise to allow the towers, Gallagher said.
“Likewise, noise from ocean waves also provides a background loud enough to locate them in some spots,” she noted.
Gallagher says the committee hoped that the site of the new Swampscott High School might be a feasible location, but all of that site, both the lower portion and the uphill athletic field, are never more than about 600 feet from a home, she said.
That doesn’t mean the committee doesn’t have plenty of ideas and proposals that would, in most cases, both save energy and the environment while also saving residents and taxpayers money.
For starters, there are ways to save energy at town-owned buildings, Gallagher told selectmen. National Grid has already done an “energy audit” of all such buildings, including the schools, and an audit by KeySpan (now also owned by National Grid but with different programs) is coming, she said.
In one case, she said, specifically at Worcester Technical High School, National Grid contributed $361,000 and the school $76,000, but the school realized a payback of its investment in the very first year.
The Renewable Energy Committee is working on making a priority list of suggested projects, Gallagher said.
A study of using geothermal sources for heating and cooling Town Hall, due for a $3 million renovation in coming months to make the building larger and accessible to handicapped people, should be completed before the renovations as well, Gallagher said.
She said the Renewable Energy Committee also recommends that one town employee who works daily with energy and building operations be sent to an eight-day training program run by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership.
Savings for municipalities who have sent people to the program average $20,000 a year, she said, but there is a $1,400 tuition fee, committee member Martha Dansdill added. But the information gained by a student can “filter down” to others responsible for building maintenance and operations. Dansdill said she’s not sure who the appropriate person might be, but it could be someone involved in school operations.
Other ideas include “performance contracting,” essentially partnering with a commercial company which designs energy-savings programs and then sells them to the town while guaranteeing a payback of the investment in a given number of years, and strict adherence to purchase of “Energy Star” appliances and hardware.
The state also has a variety of grant programs, Gallagher said, sometimes up to $500,000 for technology grants.
Town Administrator Andrew Maylor reminded selectmen that the new high school represents both opportunity and risk.
“Leaving the lights on in a 200,000-square-foot building for 15 minutes more than necessary represents a real cost,” Maylor said, noting that the space inside that new building might be eight times the area of all non-school buildings combined.
Back to windmills
Gallagher said that while the 1,000-foot rule might militate against wind power in Swampscott for the time being, the technology in wind turbines is allowing them to become quieter.
“There may soon be shorter setbacks – and solar is an option,” she said.
By George Derringer/ firstname.lastname@example.org
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