WORCESTER– A wind turbine at Holy Name High School on Granite Street could save the school nearly $200,000 in annual electricity costs without driving the neighbors batty with noise, a representative of the Canadian company that would build the structure said last night.
“We estimated we needed a minimum upwind distance of 800 feet from the nearest abutter to be a zero nuisance factor and we were at 850 feet,” Kevin Schulte, of Sustainable Energy Development Inc., told about 25 people at a project presentation in the high school auditorium last night. “Wind turbines are generally inaudible to the human ear at 600 feet.”
City zoning does not now allow wind turbines because they are not specifically named in the regulations. Assistant City Manager Julie Jacobson said last night a zoning amendment regarding wind turbines will be submitted to the City Council at its Jan. 30 meeting. Other proposals to reduce energy consumption and seek alternative energy sources also will be presented to the council then, Ms. Jacobson said.
Joel Fontane, director of planning and regulatory services for the city, said it would take from six to nine months for a wind turbine project to make its way through the regulatory process, which would include a series of public hearings.
While the administration is interested in wind power, Ms. Jacobson said it had no position on the Holy Name project.
“We’re not for or against it, we’re here to learn about it,” she said.
City councilors Paul P. Clancy Jr. and Frederick C. Rushton questioned certain aspects of the project, including tower height and aesthetics.
“It’s truly a landscape issue at this point,” said Mr. Clancy, who represents District 3.
Mr. Schulte, vice president of consulting for the Ontario firm, readily acknowledged that wind turbines are readily visible. At one point in his presentation he showed a slide depicting the turbine as it would be seen from Vernon Hill Park a mile away: “We can’t hide them,” he said
He estimated the tower’s height at 155 feet and the height of the blades from 70 to 80 feet, making the total height at the top of the blade in a vertical position about 200 feet. It would be prominent in the city’s southeast skyscape.
The structure, to be located in an empty lot on the south side of the campus, would cost from $1.5 million to $2.1 million to build, Mr. Schulte said. It would be capable of producing 1,700,000 kilowatts of electricity per year, more than enough to provide all of the school’s electrical needs. Any excess would be redistributed on the grid.
“It’s emission-free power,” Mr. Schulte said, calling the turbine “environmentally benign,” though required environmental reviews would assess the structure’s potential negative effects on birds and bats. The tower would be lighted: white during the day and red at night.
The turbine effectively shuts itself down in severe weather conditions, including high wind and icing, Mr. Schulte said. “There’s never been a turbine failure because of extreme weather.”
The project received a $575,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. A feasibility study concluding that wind energy could power the school was done by four Worcester Polytechnic Institute seniors: Brian Foley of Worcester, Hans Jensen of Great Barrington, Tyler Forbes of Nashua, N. H., and Adam Young of Mansfield. Mr. Foley is the son of School Committee member John L. Foley.
One Holy Name neighbor, Donald Courtney, a city firefighter, questioned Mr. Schulte’s claims regarding turbine noise and offered his residence on Loxwood Street, about 1,200 feet from the proposed tower site, for decibel level testing. Fire Lt. Courtney also wondered how transparent the process would be, as promised by Holy Name headmaster Mary Riordan.
“It seems like it’s a done deal that’s going to go in, no matter what anyone says,” Fire Lt. Courtney said.
He also asked why turbines were turned down at Green Hill Park but could be built on Granite Street. “What’s not good for one section of the city is OK for another?” he asked.
The state recently considered, but ultimately rejected, locating wind turbines on Green Hill Park land adjacent to Worcester Technical High School.
Mr. Schulte said his company determined that sites at WPI and the College of the Holy Cross had enough sustained wind – about 13 mph to 14 mph – to generate electricity, but both were too heavily congested to be seriously considered.
By Mark Melady
Telegram & Gazette Staff
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