About 30 acres of land stretch across the northeastern part of Hamilton and is known as Sagamore Hill. It’s also one of the highest points in town.
It’s home now to nine members of the United States Air Force with the sole purpose of monitoring the sun’s activities.
Soon, however, the three dishes that are used to listen to the sun may be accompanied by another piece of heavy machinery with a different purpose – a 600-kilowatt wind turbine.
Over two years ago, a meeting was called with Hamilton town officials to talk about a possible collaboration between the town and the Air Force in constructing a wind turbine on the Sagamore Hill site.
The Air Force would donate the use of its land for the wind turbine, which would be built, owned and operated by Hamilton. The turbine would power the observatory; any additional electricity would belong to Hamilton and could be used by the town or sold to National Grid.
“What we would draw would be very minimal,” said Sagamore Hill Instructor Daniel Holmes.
The proposed turbine would produce about 800,000-kilowatt hours of electricity a year or about 65,000-kwh a month. One kilowatt of power is expended over one hour.
The Air Force predicts that it will use about 10-20 percent of the generated energy, leaving the rest to be used for Hamilton town buildings, residents, street lights and the schools.
Hanscom Air Force Base has owned and occupied the land at Sagamore Hill since the 1960s, for the purposes of the Air Force’s weather agency.
“It’s a nice piece of land,” said Sagamore Hill Solar Observatory Site Commander Capt. James Bono.
Three dishes are located around the property and are used to listen to the sun and record its activity, such as solar flaring.
Solar flares, which are violent explosions on the sun’s surface, can affect GPS, global positioning system, equipment and radio contact, as well as other communications and some guided missiles used around the world.
The Sagamore Hill Solar Observatory, which was built in the early 1960s, is one of four centers operated by the United States Air Force around the globe. The others are located in Australia, Italy and Hawaii.
“We used to have a bigger mission,” said Bono.
However now, 10 individuals occupy the center with the mission of observing the sun and reporting any activity that may be of significance to human activities on the earth and in space. Nine of the members are active military, including solar analysts and equipment maintainers, as well as Holmes, who is the only civilian on staff.
The dishes include the bicone, a 25 to 80 MHz (megahertz) dish that catches the lowest frequencies of the sun. The 80-180 MHz hiband dish and the 28-foot, 245-610 MHz dish both track the sun at different frequencies as well.
The analysts monitor the dishes and when the sirens go off, signaling an event, a two-minute window opens to evaluate the burst.
Holmes said it would be tremendous to have the site powered by solar energy and at the same time have the community benefit as well.
“We really want it to be a joint effort with the community,” said Bono. “We wouldn’t want to (put in a turbine) without community support. The military always wants to do right by the communities we neighbor.”
The driving force behind Bono wanting the solar observatory to get involved in the windmill project is the benefit of renewable energy.
“The Air Force is the greenest company in America,” said Bono, adding that personnel use the most renewable energy in the form of solar tiles and wind power.
More legwork needs to be done before the concept takes the next steps into reality. Personnel from Hanscom still must visit the site and give approval. This is scheduled for sometime in March. The next step is performing a wind study to make sure the site is optimal for generating wind power.
The town has submitted an application to the Massachusetts Technology Collaboration. Through the MTC, the University of Massachusetts would be contracted to conduct the wind study free of charge.
However, Hamilton Selectman David Carey said that because Hamilton does not own the land, it seems the town will have to seek funding from a different program with the MTC.
“We are working with the air force to make that change,” he said.
After the study, which could take up to 18 months to complete, the town would then have to go through the necessary process of talking to abutters and environmentalists to further determine if the site is ideal for the wind turbine.
“A lot of work needs to be done,” said Bono.
By Natalie Miller
13 February 2008
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