Lured by the prospects of reducing energy costs and becoming a “greener” community, Norwell is exploring the potential siting of wind-powered turbines in town.
With the support of the Board of Selectmen, a town committee is preparing to submit an application with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for the agency to provide a free preliminary assessment of six to seven town-owned sites the panel has identified as possible wind-turbine locations.
If the assessment finds any of the sites merit further analysis, the town could apply to the collaborative for a comprehensive feasibility study.
Members of the Wind Turbine Committee, appointed by the selectmen last November to look at wind turbine opportunities in town, say it is too early to tell where that exploration will lead. But they say the effort is worthwhile.
“I think it’s very exciting,” said Tricia Lederer, the committee’s chairwoman. “It’s important for the town of Norwell to look into this for the cost savings, but also because we need to be looking at more renewable energy in this country.”
Norwell joins a growing list of cities and towns that are taking an interest in locating wind turbines on municipal land.
“I think it’s a combination of increased environmental awareness, and concerns about climate change, as well as concerns about the rising costs of electricity,” said Chris Clark, senior project manager for the collaborative. The quasi-public agency administers the state’s Renewable Energy Trust, a fund generated through a surcharge on utility bills to promote renewable energy in Massachusetts.
To date, the collaborative has completed 47 municipal wind site surveys, including in Cohasset, Hanover, Kingston, Lakeville, Mattapoisett, Plymouth, Quincy, Scituate, and a joint survey done for Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester of a Rochester site. Three other surveys are underway.
The collaborative also has completed six feasibility studies, which include placing 164-foot-tall, wind-measuring towers on the sites for a year. Ten more studies are in process, including in Kingston, Plymouth, and Scituate.
To date, Hull is the only Massachusetts community that has utility-scale wind turbines in place. The town has two turbines, both on land owned by its Municipal Light Plant.
Other utility-scale wind turbines in operation in the state include one at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne, one at the Jiminy Peak ski resort in Hancock, and one recently installed at a condominium development in Chelsea.
The sites identified by the Norwell committee include the high school, the middle school, the Vinal Elementary School, a Water Department property on South Street, the Stetson Meadows conservation and recreation area, the Pine Street soccer fields, and possibly a Water Department property on Washington Street.
Because of state rules governing how wind-power generators are compensated by the regional grid, Lederer said, the best option for communities to derive financial benefits from wind turbines is to make use of the power themselves. She said selling the power to the grid would not offer significant returns.
For that reason, and because of the ample space it would provide for a turbine, the high school site is the most promising, she said. The approximately 100-acre campus encompasses the high school, the public library, and a Highway Department facility, municipal buildings that could receive power directly from a turbine.
Some of the remaining sites, notably the Stetson Meadows and Pine Street fields – neither of which has any municipal buildings – are considered unlikely candidates for turbines, but the committee decided it was worth including them on the list to see what the study concludes.
Lederer said it is too early to address such issues as whether any facility would be owned by the town or a private entity, noting that those questions would be addressed should the town advance to a feasibility study.
Charles R. Markham, a member of the Wind Turbine Committee and the Planning Board, said finances will be a key issue for him in assessing the potential of a turbine project. “The project has to stand on its own merits,” he said, because if not, “you are indirectly or directly raising people’s taxes to do something.”
He said the jury is still out on whether a project can be viable. “It’s very possible at the end of the day we’ll come up with a recommendation that it’s not feasible in Norwell. We are not Hull; we are not Scituate. We’re not a coastal community with winds blowing off the bay.”
Still, Markham sees a lot of support for the effort in town.
“My sense of the community is that it views the whole thing favorably,” he said. “People aren’t challenging us, saying, ‘What are you guys doing?’ ”
Committee members hope that support will translate into approval of a $30,000 appropriation request by Town Meeting this spring.
Lederer said the committee is seeking the money to use in case the collaborative ends up doing the feasibility study a program that requires a match.
Meanwhile, the committee also has drafted a proposed bylaw governing future siting of wind turbines in town. Markham said the measure, to be taken up by Town Meeting, not the one this spring, would provide clear guidelines to town boards in considering future proposals.
Clark said there are a number of significant hurdles that communities face in attempting to develop turbines, including urbanization, high land values, concerns from abutters about noise and visual impacts, and the price tag: A utility-scale turbine can cost $2 million to $4 million.
But he said the collaborative stands ready to help municipalities “that want to host wind projects and are seeking to overcome these challenges.”
By John Laidler
23 March 2008
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