The Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department is helping lead the way in the development of wind turbines across the region.
Next month, officials will put up a 160-foot meteorological test tower on the former prison farm property off Obery Street, and, presuming the results confirm sufficient wind, a permanent turbine will follow, located next to the correctional facility.
The expected savings? “We think we can probably save $200,000 to $450,000 on a bill that runs $850,000 to $1 million,” said sheriff’s department spokesman John Birtwell.
“The romance of it is, it was the wind that brought the Pilgrims here, and it is the wind that will save us again.”
A study of energy alternatives began shortly after Sheriff Joseph McDonald took office in 2005. Wind power won out over solar energy because the technology has been advanced further.
Plymouth County’s jail is not the only one in the state exploring wind power. According to Josh Bagnato, director of renewable energy for the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the state prison in Gardner is “on somewhat parallel tracks.”
Prisons are particularly good candidates for using renewable energy sources, Bagnato said, because the energy generated by the wind turbine can be used right on site.
Neighbors often become concerned at the mention of the giant steel windmills, Birtwell said, but no one is close enough to Plymouth County’s correctional facility to be bothered by the constant whoosh of the spinning blades. He said the noise shouldn’t bother the 1,600 inmates at the prison, either, because the wind turbine will generate less sound than the traffic along nearby Route 3.
The turbine is expected to cost $400,000 to $700,000, depending on the size. “With what we would save,” Birtwell said, “we would pay it off in a very short time.”
The town of Hull served as the model for the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department. Hull in 1984 installed a wind machine on the high school property, upgraded it, and added a second, larger turbine last May at its landfill. Both are owned by the town’s Municipal Light Plant and have saved the community more than $1 million to date, according to Light Department operations manager John Murdock.
Hull officials are looking at installing four off shore wind turbines in the Nantasket Beach area, and several other area towns are pursing wind power options as well.
Quincy has two test machines, called anemometers, taking readings on communications towers at Quarry Hills and the Police Station property, according to Kristen Goland, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s project manager for the community wind turbine program.
Scituate has one meteorological tower that went up last summer, Goland said, and Cohasset is expecting a test tower to be installed on conservation land at Turkey Hill next month.
Mattapoisett has two meteorological towers – at the Old Rochester Regional High School and in a state park on Brandt Island. The Brandt Island site will not be permanent because of neighbors’ opposition, but the local landfill might be home to a wind turbine, as might the high school, according to Town Manager Michael Botelho. A wind turbine placed at the high school would provide power to the school, he said.
Kingston officials are reviewing data gathered in a year-long test phase completed in October. They hope a wind turbine placed on property bordered by Route 3 and Marion Road would be used for municipal purposes, according to Town Planner Thomas Bott.
Plymouth and Lakeville did short preliminary studies to determine where test towers could be placed, but to date have gone no further in the process.
Meanwhile, Plymouth County officials are expected to move ahead as quickly as possible. A $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is covering the cost of the test measurements, to make sure there is enough wind to make a turbine cost-effective. Officials had hoped to have the test tower up by now, but cold weather has delayed the project.
“The two best places for wind turbines are along the coast or at high elevations,” said Warren Leon, director of the state’s Renewable Energy Trust. The county jail site off Long Pond Road – the geographic high point in the area – theoretically meets the criteria, according to Birtwell.
“We don’t want to prejudge or get our hopes up,” Birtwell said, “but people who know about this say we have a lot of things in our favor.”
By Christine Wallgren
15 February 2007