Boston’s northern gateway could soon have a tower to rival the Tobin Bridge and Charlestown’s 221-foot-high Bunker Hill Monument : a high wind turbine that would become the nation’s top facility for testing designs of turbine blades as long as hockey rinks.
City and state officials are proposing to use surplus space at a Massachusetts Port Authority pier for the $9 million turbine test tower and laboratory. The US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, which is sponsoring the project, expects to decide by late next month whether the Charlestown plan will get the nod.
Sites in Iowa, Maine, northern Ohio, Texas, and Virginia have also been proposed as potential locations for the one planned test facility, laboratory spokesman George Douglas said.
State officials have also proposed a harborfront site in New Bedford as another possible venue.
The key reason for proposing the Charlestown site, officials said, is to simplify the process of unloading and installing turbine blades that resemble gigantic airplane propellers of up to 220 feet long and 20 feet wide. Being able to bring them in on a ship or barge and transfer them directly to the test tower is crucial because transporting them inland by highway or rail could be prohibitively expensive or physically impossible.
With a month left before Governor Mitt Romney leaves office, the wind turbine site proposal is part of a flurry of efforts Romney’s top economic adviser, Ranch Kimball, is pushing to leave a wide-ranging Romney renewable-energy and “green power” legacy. Romney’s administration is also pushing several regulatory proceedings to promote energy conservation and more efficient, less polluting kinds of electric generation.
In an interview, Kimball said the wind turbine facility would be more than just a prominent symbol of the state’s support for renewable energy. “It sends a signal around the industry that a lot of very important wind research and development happens in Massachusetts, and if you’ve got a wind lab here, it starts to become a center of gravity for the development of the technology,” Kimball said.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s top energy and environmental adviser, James W. Hunt III, said Menino is very supportive of the plan.
“We’re looking to create an image of Boston that respects our past but also looks forward to new opportunities,” Hunt said. “This would put Boston on the cutting edge of renewable energy.”
Because the site is in an overwhelmingly industrial section of Charlestown, Hunt said, Menino is confident it would not have an unacceptable impact on neighborhood residents, who would be involved in the planning.
“This would be a great source of jobs and economic development,” Hunt added.
Charlestown Neighborhood Council officials knowledgeable about the proposal did not return phone calls yesterday.
State Senator Jarrett Barrios, a Cambridge Democrat who represents Charlestown, could not be reached for comment.
For drivers coming into Boston from the north over the Tobin Bridge, the project would offer an arresting view, with wind turbines extending up to 450 feet above the ground at the highest point of their rotation.
Different kinds of blades would be installed on the tower for days or weeks at a time, with scientists monitoring how well they perform and how efficient they are at producing electricity.
State officials estimate the project would cost about $8.8 million. Of that, $3.4 million would come from the state Division of Energy Resources; $3.4 million from the Renewable Energy Trust, which is funded by a roughly 20-cent-a-month tax on electric bills; and $2 million in the form of equipment donated by the US Energy Department.
University of Massachusetts officials are also working with the state and energy trust on the project.
State officials said Massport has substantial extra space on the site formally known as the Mystic Wharf and Mystic Pier One. The 65-acre site was formerly known as the Moran Container Terminal before being converted in 1998 to an “Autoport” for ships unloading cars and trucks, when container operations were moved to South Boston.
The site can handle as many as 50,000 vehicles annually, but has been operating at roughly 80 percent of capacity. For the last two years, about 12,000 vehicles have come into the facility by ship, and another 28,000 vehicles have been transported there by truck for final preparations and finishes before being shipped out to auto dealers, Massport data show.
By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding