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Wind turbines proposed for Blue Hills

The Massachusetts Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the Reservation on behalf of its public owners, is exploring options for financing and operating wind turbines in the Blue Hills.

A preliminary analysis by the Renewable Energy Research Lab at UMASS/Amherst shows that the only sites in the Reservation likely to have enough wind to ensure a positive return on development are its two highest points, the summits of Blue and Chickatawbut Hills.

At a meeting convened by DCR and the town of Milton at Trailside last Tuesday, Sally Wright of UMASS said that the next step is to erect one or two thin cable-stayed masts approximately 150 feet high at the proposed sites. These masts would collect data on wind speeds aloft and provide for solid estimates of the amount of the electricity one or two turbines could produce. That in turn would allow DCR to decide whether to prepare a full-scale proposal.

Wright said that the turbines would consist of freestanding stanchions approximately 150 feet high bearing three-bladed rotors, bringing their total height to something between 350 and 400 feet, comparable to the new turbine in Hull. The existing WGBH tower on Blue Hill is 150 feet high.

One turbine on Blue Hill could supply all the power needs of the Blue Hill Observatory and Trailside Museum in average conditions. The surplus would be fed into the local grid.

Don McCasland of the Observatory said that during certain storms the arms of the rotor would likely spin rain into the weather station’s instrument enclosure and compromise the data collected there. Any turbine placed on Blue Hill would probably go on the north or Milton side of the summit in order to minimize impacts on the Observatory. Although it would not be fenced off, access would be restricted during icing conditions, and this closure might or might not affect the ski area.

Norman Smith of Trailside Museum stated that birds, bats, and insects migrate through the Blue Hills and that he was concerned about impacts on wildlife and whether a turbine owned and operated by DCR would be properly maintained. Milton selectman Kathy Fagan mentioned that some turbines are shut down during peak migration periods.

Tom Palmer of Friends of the Blue Hills remarked that although good reasons exist to develop wind power, there is no denying that large engineered structures like the proposed turbines clash with the purpose for which the Reservation was acquired 110 years ago: to preserve natural scenery for public use and enjoyment.

Wright said that she would complete her review of existing information in a month or so and would make a positive recommendation to DCR if the sites appeared to justify a feasibility study involving placement of masts for testing.

Friends of the Blue Hills is very much aware that the proposed turbines have the potential to transform the appearance of the Blue Hills, which are an icon in our landscape. We believe that the public owners and users of the Reservation should be the ultimate arbiters of any proposed development. We have many questions about the proposal and will do our best to provide our members with complete information.

Friends of the Blue Hills

15 September 2007