North Andover is joining Haverhill and other Massachusetts communities that are testing to see if wind turbines will work for them.
The Covanta company’s trash incinerator at the edge of Interstate 495 in Haverhill has a small turbine that collects wind and converts it to electricity. The company is also studying wind patterns on top of a hill on its property along the Merrimack River to see if larger turbines will work there.
Now consultants are trying to decide whether North Andover would be a good place to put a wind turbine.
“We have a history of looking at ways to green up the community,” said Town Manager Mark Rees, referring to energy created from the Wheelabrator trash-to-energy plant and the state’s largest private installation of solar panels at Osgood Landing.
“This will move us further in that direction,” he said.
Communities can apply for government grants to build windmills, but to qualify for the money, a city or town must have strong and consistent winds.
Haverhill’s Energy Task Force, which is trying to reduce the city’s fossil fuel consumption, is looking into several projects. While a large wind farm may not be possible, smaller turbines may fit nicely in Haverhill, task force members have said. Preliminary locations that have been discussed include Golden Hill next to the elementary school there and the city’s old landfill at the Haverhill-Groveland line.
In North Andover, Rees said that over the next couple of weeks, Meridian Associates Inc. will do a free desktop analysis of existing wind data in North Andover to get an idea of whether the town has enough wind to put in a turbine.
If Meridian determines there is enough wind, Rees said, the town would have to decide whether to move forward with a feasibility study to test the wind in a particular location at a cost of $50,000.
North Andover is one of more than 40 communities in various stages of planning and testing the feasibility of wind turbines, according to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the state’s development agency for renewable energy.
Residents at Ipswich Town Meeting this spring decided to appropriate $4.2 million for a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine, one of the largest around. About 10 wind turbines across the state are expected to go up over the year.
The process of generating power from a turbine takes from three to five years, start to finish.
Emily Dahl, spokeswoman for the collaborative, said along the way many communities find that they don’t have a good location on town-owned land, or they run into other permitting issues that delay or end the process. Twenty communities that had considered installing wind turbines have since decided to not to, she said.
Jonathan Markey, professional engineer at Meridian Associates, said grant money is available to towns for feasibility studies, as well for design and construction of turbines.
Markey said first a site would have to be chosen that produces sufficient wind on town-owned land. He said a lot of criteria goes into siting, including how close it is to neighborhoods and wetlands, whether it would interfere with planes landing at the airport and environmental factors.
When a site is chosen, it takes another six to 12 months of gathering wind data to know whether it is worth installing the turbine. Then comes cost analysis to determine how long it will take for the turbine to pay for itself in savings from electricity.
So far, Hull is the only town to actually install wind turbines in Massachusetts. It has two. The first one, which went up in 2002, cost $700,000 and produces an average 140,000 kilowatt hours a month. That’s enough electricity to power 250 homes.
The second, which cost $3 million to install in 2006, produces 400,000 kilowatt hours per month, enough electricity for 750 homes.
Energy from the turbines goes onto the electricity grid and lowers electricity bills for ratepayers, meaning they haven’t seen a rate increase in eight years. The town also is in the development stages to put four wind turbines offshore.
Richard Miller, operations manager at Hull Municipal Light, said the first turbine has paid for itself in electricity savings, and the second will probably do so in another four or five years. In addition to electrical savings, the two wind turbines also draw tourists from around the world.
Miller said for a bedroom community that doesn’t have much industry to help with the rising cost of utilities, harnessing the wind has proven to be a tremendous help.
“We don’t have much going for us as a tax base – no industry, no business per se,” he said. “What are you going to do?”
Smaller turbines have been put up, too, including a 660-kilowatt one at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Locally, a 70-foot tower will be put on the roof of 350 Merrimack St. in Lawrence to collect data on wind speed and direction to see if it makes sense to put a wind turbine generator at the Riverwalk complex.
Rees said he doesn’t know what the results of the study here will be, or where a wind turbine would go in North Andover. But, he said, it’s worth a try if it can save some money for residents.
“It’s a long-term thing, but it doesn’t hurt to look at it,” he said.
By Drake Lucas
20 July 2008
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