High school neighbors won’t see the test tower from their back yards, school officials said earlier this month, but that’s not what brought nearly two dozen Holden residents to the June 2 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.
Their concern is that the 196-foot meteorological (met) tower could lead to a much taller wind turbine on Wachusett Regional High School property, visible from homes in the Avery Heights-Jennifer Drive neighborhood. Residents of those homes are worried that it will drive down property values.
“You put that tower up, it will be worth less tomorrow,” said Lynn Myers of Britney Drive. “No way can it be positive.”
Landscape architect William Murray told residents that studies have shown wind turbines have no long-term effect on property values, but he didn’t have a chance to talk to the zoning board about the immediate issue – the met tower. The board failed to meet its quorum, so the official discussion was postponed until 7 p.m. Thursday, June 24, at the Senior Center.
Murray and engineer Denis McLaughlin from PLACES Site Consultants, Inc., invited the crowd to stay for an informal presentation, along with district Business Manager Peter Brennan.
The met tower, which would stand for 12 months to gather wind readings on the hill behind the high school, is the first step to erecting a wind power turbine.
PLACES looked at the site scientifically and determined it produces a fair amount of wind that will generate more energy than the school needs, Murray said.
“That’s on paper,” he said. “Until the tower goes up, there’s no way of knowing.”
He said the nearest structure to the wind power site is 1,300 feet – a quarter-mile – away.
“Quite frankly, you can’t see it from your house if you live on Jennifer Drive,” he said. “You won’t be able to see it through the trees in the summer. You will barely be able to discern a four-inch diameter steel tube sticking up, held up with guide-wires, through the branches in the middle of the winter.”
The met tower doesn’t require any infrastructure and makes no noise, other than the meters that grab the wind and spin, he said.
Residents seemed more concerned about the possible turbine. They asked about other sites, visual and sound impacts to the neighborhood, zoning and impact on property values.
No other sites have been examined, Murray said. The location was picked because “it’s as remote as we could get from any residential area and it has good wind and it’s buffered by its natural location.”
Brennan noted that it has to be on school property. The Wachusett Regional School District only owns two parcels – the high school campus and the Jefferson School, which houses the superintendent’s office.
“You need to plug it in and it needs to be connected to the people using it,” McLaughlin said. “The ability to use the electricity to supplement what you’re purchasing diminishes when you involve middlemen, putting it on a different site and connecting with an extension cord some other way.”
There was some indication that the turbine would be larger if not equal in size to the 242-foot turbine at Holy Name Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School in Worcester, but smaller than the 383-foot turbine at Narragansett Regional Middle- High School in Templeton.
“The bigger the turbine, the more electricity it produces, and therefore it replaces the electricity the school district has to buy,” Murray said. “It lowers the operational costs. … What we think we can put on this site is a fairly large turbine, just by wind potential.”
Depending on the size, the wind turbine can pay for itself in less than 10 years, Murray said, but its potential lifespan is 25 years.
Met isn’t the end
Approving the met tower is not an automatic approval for the permanent turbine, the men said; financial, political and regulatory obstacles could still block the proposal. Brennan reiterated that the public would have multiple opportunities for comments and questions.
Once the met tower data are available, an impact analysis will be prepared. Hundreds of photos will be taken to study visual impacts, an acoustics engineer will conduct studies and a “shadow and a flicker” test will be completed.
In response to residents’ questions, Murray said modern wind turbines are safer in harsh weather than older ones were; the met tower does not require a strobe light to warn aircraft, but the wind turbine might; and that the school district will work with town officials to abide by zoning laws.
Murray said he’d provide a “scientifically prepared” study concerning turbines and property values, showing that despite the perception, homes return to their pre-construction property values once the turbine is built.
“The reason we’ve gone down this way, we are all as individuals experiencing uneven increases in our energy costs,” Brennan said. “When we look at our school budget, on our energy side, we’re looking at 10, 12, 15 percent increases every year on a million dollar energy bill. This stabilizes our energy costs for 20-25 years. Whatever we’re paying now, we’re going to be paying that in 25 years. That means we avoid an increase, therefore we can maintain our assessment or we can put more money into the education side as opposed to the operation side.”
A turbine for just the high school would be smaller, Brennan said. The current plan is to build a turbine large enough to sell surplus energy back to the Holden Municipal Light Department, generating revenue for the schools. He acknowledged that the larger the turbine is, the more it will impact its neighbors.
“We’re a public entity,” he said. “We’re your school district, and we certainly want your input and consider your input in what we decide. I think most of you would prefer that this wasn’t built, at all.”
“Absolutely,” the crowd answered.
“I think the people sitting here tonight are a small representation of our neighborhood with grave concerns of this going through,” said one resident. “I hope you can go back to Dr. [Superintendent Thomas] Pandiscio and explain that there is, I don’t want say negative opposition to it, but there is opposition to this being in our backyard and I think they want to know that right now before they get too deep into this.”
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