The single-digit temperatures did not dissuade more than 50 Marion residents from attending a hearing designed to examine a preliminary plan to install a wind turbine at Great Hill.
Marion’s Alternative Energy Committee meeting on Monday, January 24, 2011, evening attracted both year-round and summer residents who desired to weigh in on the possible installation of a 125-meter high turbine. In a unique arrangement, the Town of Marion is exploring the installation of the turbine with the Stone family of North Great Hill Drive who offered to explore leasing their land to the town for the purpose of wind energy.
Committee member Bill Saltonstall emphasized that the final feasibility study of the project is still receiving its final edits, but so far he said that the possible wind energy generated from a Great Hill turbine looks promising. With the 14 mph average wind speed at the area, the turbine would have a 38.5 percent “capacity factor” – meaning that it could generate 38.5 percent of its total possible potential energy output. This figure, which is unusually high for turbines, would produce 1.8 mega watts of electricity that could offset electricity costs for municipal buildings. He said this site is more favorable than other locations, including Old Rochester Regional High School, which was determined in the past to have insufficient wind for a turbine.
“The city can sell power to other towns, none would be wasted,” Mr. Saltonstall added. The turbine would meet setback requirements and be situated about one-quarter mile from Stone property residents and one-half mile away from offsite residents, he said. Mr. Saltonstall projected electricity savings to be $578,440 in the first year and $1,339,166 per year after 10 years, when the bond is paid off.
“It shows tremendous potential in reducing the town’s annual expenses for power,” he said, adding that the turbine would reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Prior to opening the discussion, Chairman David Pierce sought to end speculation that the turbine would be erected in a short timeframe. “The impression that is afoot is that this is going up tomorrow, but nothing will take place without town meeting action,” he said. The Alternative Energy Committee is merely undertaking a cost benefit analysis, he said, with studies underway to establish more facts. In addition to the pending feasibility study, an acoustics study has been funded, he said. Mr. Saltonstall added that potentially the town might ask residents to fund more studies six or more months down the road.
Piney Point resident Kitt Sawitsky opened the floor with several concerns about the turbine and the need for more studies on health effects, shadow flicker, noise and avian issues. He questioned whether the committee is adequately examining the potential adverse impact of the turbine on residents.
“It doesn’t seem the committee is seeing more than the financial benefits and the reduction of the dependence on fossil fuel,” he said. Looking around the room at the people who came to voice their opinions, he added, “You’re not dealing with fearmongers. You are dealing with people who are afraid. That’s a big difference.”
“We have brought in every expert, people who worked [with the turbines] at Portsmouth High School and Mass Maritime in this very building. We’ve been bringing in people for years. I take exception to your comment that we’re not listening,” Chairman Pierce said.
Other residents spoke, including summer resident Jeanine Holmes of Piney Point Rd, expressing concern about lack of abutter notification and urged greater communication with residents. Sue Maxwell Lewis of Delano Road then inquired how the parts of the turbine would be transported, noting that her road – which leads to the Great Hill area – may require work to accommodate heavy loads. Mr. Saltonstall responded that the parts likely would be shipped by barge, and may entail the removal of some trees to maneuver to the site.
Residents also voiced concerns about the changed appearance of the coastline with a turbine. “Most people are here for the simple reason that Marion is a quietly situated town. There’s something wrong about fitting a square peg in a round hole,” commented Gil McManus of 13 Holly Road. “Erecting a 40-story structure visible from Cuttyhunk is not the way to preserve Marion.”
“I can’t believe we don’t have a value on the visual destruction. Just because you can’t put a number on it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value,” said Cove Circle resident Steve Cokins.
The impact on nearby home values was also discussed. One resident said that after a conversation with a real estate broker – who predicted that the homes would be devalued by 30 percent with a nearby turbine – that he would be “first in line seeking a change in assessment.” He added: “It will ripple through the residential area. We need to look at the long-term impact.”
Describing herself as a long-time health professional, resident Kathy Reed of 6 Register Road noted that in her research, “I can’t find one study showing no health effects [caused by turbines]… There is an annoyance over time that can lead to chronic illness, depression and anxiety,” she said.
Andy Kotsatos of 52 West Ave, however, expressed support for the project given that residents’ concerns are carefully studied. “Cutting off without finishing the investigation would be a mistake,” he said.
Some concern was expressed about the lack of firm details regarding the mechanics of the release with the Stone family. Mr. Saltonstall explained that the Stone family needs more information before proceeding with an agreement.
The committee stressed that the project is in its infancy, with more studies to be conducted and more facts to be brought to the table. “We’re trying to get more information. We couldn’t just rush into it,” said committee member Eunice Manduca.
Selectman Jonathan Henry, also at the meeting, said, “The board of selectmen will be inclusive on this project. We are committed to hearing all sides of the issue.” He added: “This is not an asphalt plant or a tire-shredding business… There are financial pressures on the town, unpredictable things that have us [in an awkward position].”
The next Alternative Energy Committee meeting on the turbine project is scheduled for February 28.