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Turbine eyed for Amesbury

AMESBURY – A large wind turbine is being eyed for a hill near the Amesbury/Merrimac line – the fourth wind turbine to be proposed locally in the past few weeks.

Like other community officials across the commonwealth, Amesbury town officials are entertaining the idea of allowing developers the permits they need to construct a wind turbine. In Newbury, three wind turbines are being proposed in remote land off Middle Road – one about 340 feet tall, and two about 240 feet tall.

Newburyport has a 292-foot, 600 kilowatt wind turbine at the Mark Richey Woodworking company in the city’s industrial park.

The height of the turbine being considered for Amesbury – a 1 to 2 megawatt model – has not yet been determined. Turbines with that much power output can reach heights of 400 feet, though the size of the generator does not always correlate to higher towers.

Amesbury is in the preliminary stages of the process after being contacted a few weeks ago by Massachusetts-based company Spinnaker Energy, LLC about the possibility, Town Planner Nipun Jain said. Spinnaker has applied through the Federal Aviation Administration to site a meteorological tower atop a 197-foot hill overlooking Interstate 495, on land owned by Pender Farm. It’s the company’s hope that the site will provide enough wind that a turbine at that location would be feasible.

“They talked about putting in a temporary meteorological tower, and we said yes, as long as it’s temporary,” said Jain, who explained the installation of the tower is the means of discovering whether a turbine will generate enough wind energy to make the enormous cost of the machine worth the trouble.

The tower installation is slated for September 2011 and will remain in place to test wind speeds for one year. If the FAA approves the tower placement, the tower can be erected, as it’s being considered on private farmland.

Spinnaker CEO Chip Kelleher said the test tower will stand anywhere between 180 to 340 feet high. Ultimately, the turbine the company is looking to install would be primarily used to generate and sell back electricity to the energy provider – maybe National Grid, though the plans are not solid.

“We’re talking somewhere between 1 to 2 megawatts, which would power roughly 400 to 800 houses,” Kelleher said. “That being said, during site design is when we decide what turbine we’re going to install.”

Kelleher said his company plans to site it on the Pender farmland through an agreement with the farm owners, who will benefit from the energy output first and foremost.

“We’ll power them first and then put any additional energy back into the grid,” he said. “We go in and lease land. We own the turbines, and we profit share with the land owner. But we also have investor groups that make money off this.”

Jain said the town is generally supportive of the plan put forth by Spinnaker, and said while the town’s Planning Board has yet to adopt any bylaws or ordinances pertaining to wind turbines, the issue has long been on their radar and list of things to tackle.

In Newburyport, the city council has come under fire from some neighbors of the Hill Street neighborhood after approving ordinances that allowed Richey to erect his turbine in the industrial park that backs up to their homes. The council is still considering altering those bylaws to perhaps provide longer setback requirements between future turbines and people’s homes.

There are no ordinances yet on the books in Amesbury to guide this process, but Jain said they may come soon.

“That’s what we’re working on,” Jain said. “Amesbury has been doing a lot of these projects both at the public and private level. We had proposed the bylaw even before Newburyport, but it didn’t make it through the legislative process.”

As the Planning Board hammers out the details of an ordinance regarding wind turbines, Jain said Spinnaker has asked to participate in the meetings and discussion to provide any expertise that relates to new technology. In the meantime, Kelleher said his group is at the very earliest stages of considering a turbine at that location. And prior to it happening, the group will have to prove the site is windy enough, and that they can get the grant funding from the state’s recently organized Clean Energy Council.

But early looks at the site have been promising in terms of how much wind circulates in that I-495 corridor, and due to the highway noise and the site’s rural location, complaints from neighbors shouldn’t be as much of an issue as have plagued other projects in densely populated areas, he said. Still, the company plans to work with the town and neighbors on whatever size turbine is deemed appropriate at the farm.

“We’re at the very preliminary stages of the process of developing a wind project, of determining feasibility of developing a wind project there. And we have every intention of working with the town and the neighbors as well as the landowners.”