City Council has agreed to allow Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates to put up a pair of 30-story tall wind turbines that will cut deeply into the more than $2 million a year energy bill of Gloucester’s largest corporation.
After nearly two years of hearings on what would be the tallest turbines in the state, the council signed off on the $11 million project Tuesday night.
The arrangement was sealed with Varian’s offer to share the results of its project with the city.
Varian said it would provide access to the towers for surveillance and weather instruments, access to the research, technology and turbines as an “on-site laboratory” for schoolchildren and someday, perhaps, access to the electricity itself to help the city reduce its own energy bill.
The turbines could be up and whirring within 16 months once the Planning Board signs off on allowing the construction within the Babson Reservoir watershed, according to Rick Johnson, Varian’s director of facilities.
“It’s been a long tough road,” said Johnson, who praised Mayor John Bell for his support and thanked the council, which interrupted and delayed hearings on Varian’s proposal while writing and enacting an ordinance to govern commercial wind turbines for the first time.
Varian, the global leader in the manufacturing of the machinery used in computer chip making, has its world headquarters atop Blackburn Industrial Park. The area is buffeted by the strongest prevailing winds this side of Cape Cod – averaging 15 mph.
Turned by those winds, the big blades are projected to produce 14 million kilowatt hours of power a year – 64 percent of the company’s annual use of electricity from National Grid.
But Johnson said Varian can only use 70 percent of what it generates and must sell the surplus power back to National Grid. Johnson said regulatory restrictions now bar Varian from selling the lower cost power to the city.
But the company said it was ready to explore methods to change the regulations “so that the city may take advantage of the potential purchase and, or use of lower priced electricity generated by the (turbines).”
Varian, the only publicly traded company on Cape Ann, and, with a head count of more than 1,000, its largest employer, was lauded by councilors as an ideal corporate citizen before they voted unanimously for the project.
Councilor Bruce Tobey said applause was appropriate on multiple grounds – for the “energy independence,” “environmental enlightenment” and “economic development” that the project fosters.
“Dinosaur-produced oil” is to be replaced by a “windmill,” said Councilor Michael McLeod.
The only sour notes were struck by Stevan Goldin, a citizen activist, and Ward 1 Councilor Jason Grow, who reprised his previous argument that Varian should make a financial contribution to the city as “mitigation” for permanent alteration of the city’s natural skyline by technology, even though it signals “Gloucester’s support for alternative energy that addresses global warming.”
But Grow said his vote was “never contingent on mitigation and joined his colleagues to make the vote for the turbines unanimous.
Goldin called the arrangement an icon to “corporate dominance.”
By Richard Gaines , Staff writer
18 October 2007
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