A proposal by the owner of the Manchester Athletic Club to erect a wind turbine has prompted town officials to consider adopting a bylaw governing wind energy structures.
John J. Donovan Jr., who owns the athletic club through his company, Blue Sky Holdings, wants to build the turbine to supply electricity for Manchester Athletic, located off Exit 15 on Route 128. The 300-foot-high turbine would sit atop a hill on cleared land about 300 yards from the club.
Donovan recently received approvals from the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals to place a temporary, 150-foot-high tower on the site to measure wind speeds over the next 12 to 18 months. The data collected will help determine if a turbine is feasible. That tow er is expected to be in place by this coming week.
But in conversations with town officials, Donovan learned that the town’s zoning bylaws barely mention wind structures, and the language that is there suggests he would face an uphill battle to obtain permits for his project.
At his behest, the Board of Selectmen recently asked the Planning Board to research a comprehensive wind energy bylaw for the town similar to measures that other communities, including Gloucester, have enacted.
Planning Board chairman Gary Gilbert said his board has begun that exploration, which will include hiring a consultant and visiting wind facilities. Gilbert has prepared a draft bylaw, but “the board is not ready to go through that yet because they want to learn about the general subject matter first,” he said. “It’s new to many people on the board.”
Board of Selectmen chairwoman Sue Thorne said she supports developing a comprehensive wind bylaw “as long as there are reasonable and sensible guidelines. By having a bylaw in place, it gives any applicant an opportunity to be aware of what the parameters are” for building a tower to harness wind energy.
In Gloucester, the city’s adoption of a wind energy ordinance earlier this year paved the way for Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates, the city’s largest employer, to acquire a special permit from the City Council for two 480-foot-high turbines on its 23-acre property in Blackburn Industrial Park.
Gilbert said that the current bylaws in Manchester “inferentially allow” wind turbines in residential zones or the limited commercial district – the area north of Route 128, which includes the athletic club. But based on the bylaw language, he said it would be easy for opponents to block turbine proposals. And he said the bylaw provides no guidelines for the Planning Board to review them.
Donovan purchased the 24-year-old athletic club in 2002. The approximately 100,000-square-foot building, which houses 10 tennis courts, a pool, a basketball court, fitness facilities, and chiropractic and physical therapy rooms, sits on 6 of the 76 acres owned by Blue Sky Holdings.
It was at a Planning Board meeting about a year ago that Donovan first got the inspiration for his wind project. A representative from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council offered a presentation to the board about the potential for wind facilities on the North Shore, including Manchester.
Donovan had already undertaken a number of so-called green initiatives, including replacing regular light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs and installing time switches on all electrical appliances, both to help the environment and to try to save on the club’s $15,000-per-month electricity bill.
But he said he realized that “no matter how much you try to affect the demand side of it, you are not going” to significantly reduce energy costs. “So you start to think of the supply side.”
Donovan hired a consultant to explore the idea of erecting a wind turbine, and then with the help of a $39,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state-funded agency that supports renewable energy projects, he conducted a feasibility study. That led to his successful application for the temporary wind-testing tower.
Donovan said his studies to date indicate the proposed 1.5-megawatt turbine would generate enough power to meet all the electrical needs of the club, which has 4,000 members and 120 employees.
With the project expected to cost about $1 million, that means the savings would cover the costs of the project in as few as six years.
But Donovan said that to proceed, he needs the town to adopt the wind energy bylaw. He said he is hoping that will occur at the annual Town Meeting next spring, noting that the rising cost of wind turbines and the need to make use of his land, dictate that he move quickly on the turbine project.
According to Donovan, if a wind turbine is not built on the Manchester Athletic property, his options for the land include placing additional club facilities on it or selling it for commercial development.
Gilbert said that it is a “reasonable idea” to place a wind turbine in a limited commercial district. But he said he does not expect the board will be ready with a bylaw proposal by the annual Town Meeting because of the time that will be needed to explore the issue.
By John Laidler
9 December 2007
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