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Flurry of questions on wind plan

Blue Hills peak eyed as site for 335-foot windmill

MILTON – The possible construction of a 335-foot windmill on the tallest peak in the state-owned Blue Hills Reservation is generating a whirlwind of questions from environmentalists and agencies the project might benefit.

“There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered,” said Norman Smith, director of the Trailside Museum, which is at the foot of Great Blue Hill.

State officials last week met with town officials, nonprofit groups and environmental activists to talk about the possibility of putting up a 335-foot windmill at the top of Great Blue Hill and maybe a smaller one on Chickatawbut Hill in Quincy.

A 335-foot windmill could generate about 1.5 megawatts of power and could provide electricity to the Trailside Museum, the ski area, the state-owned Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton and the Blue Hill Observatory atop Great Blue Hill.

Once the construction cost – an estimated $2 million to $4 million – had been paid, the state could sell the excess power a turbine was producing.

For years, state Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, has considered the Blue Hills a good potential location for a wind turbine, but a pitch to Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration was rejected.

“We’ve had success with public-private partnerships up there,” Joyce said, “and this could be a way to pay for some of the good work being done by people like Norm Smith at the Trailside (Museum).”

Topping the list of questions is whether a wind turbine on either hill would generate enough electricity to make such a project profitable.

Financial questions abound, too. If the project is profitable, who would benefit monetarily? Would any of the money go to the nonprofits working in the reservation? Would any go back to Milton, Quincy or any of the towns with land in the 7,000-acre reservation?

There are also environmental questions, including there should be another manmade structure atop Great Blue Hill.

“If people like it, then fine,” said Thomas Palmer, co-executive director of the Friends of Blue Hills. “Do the benefits outweigh putting up another structure? The park was set aside to protect natural scenery. You can’t make this into natural scenery.”

Palmer’s group, which has about 400 members, has not taken a position on the turbine issue and is polling its members.

The Trailside Museum’s Smith, a renowned naturalist and scientist who has monitored migrating birds for more than 20 years, worries that birds, insects and bats heading south for the winter might crash into the turbine’s spinning blades and be killed.

“Is this just the beginning or will this just be the first (turbine) on the 23 hills in the reservation?” Smith wondered.

He said Chickatawbut Hill would be a better spot for solar panels because the roofs of buildings on the hill get sun all day long.

Since the early 1940s, WGBH, a public television station whose call letters stand for Great Blue Hill, has leased a 150-foot transmission tower at the top of the hill. Near the WGBH tower is another, smaller one that the State Police force uses to transmit signals to its officers and barracks.

Both towers can be seen from Route 128 and Route 95 as motorists head to and from Boston.

A 335-foot windmill would not be hard to spot, a factor for some supporters.

Milton Selectman Kathryn Fagan, who attended the meeting last week, said Great Blue Hill is a perfect location. A turbine there would be “an advertisement for alternative forms of energy,” she said. “It’s a message that we believe in this.”

It will be a few weeks before the next step is taken by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the state agency that oversees the Blue Hills Reservation.

Using a $10,000 state grant, the agency has hired the Renewable Energy Resource Lab at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to perform preliminary studies.

Sally Wright, a research engineer for the lab, said her report is not due for about a month, but her information shows that the reservation’s two highest peaks, the 635-foot Great Blue Hill and the 517-foot Chickatawbut Hill, are the only places where there would be enough wind for an adequate return on the investment.

Wright said the next step would be installing a temporary 150-foot monitoring tower, which would collect wind data for about a year.

Wind that averages at least 14 to 16 mph is necessary to make a turbine financially viable, Wright said.

The second-strongest wind gust ever recorded in the United States, 186 mph, was recorded at the Blue Hill Observatory in September of 1938, when a hurricane ravaged parts of New England.

By LE Campenella

The Patriot Ledger

19 September 2007