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City explores wind project for Magnolia Woods area

Gloucester has been awarded an $85,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to conduct a feasibility study for the installation of a wind turbine capable of generating up to 2 megawatts of power from city-owned land in the vicinity of the Magnolia Woods Recreational Area.

The city’s community development staff would work with Meridian Associates of Beverly on the study, which requires a $4,750 local match and would focus on the former landfill off Western Avenue.

Action by the city to accept the grant, however, is still pending.

Notice of the grant offer came as a surprise to some neighbors of the proposed project area, according to members of the City Council and city Community Development Department, and immediate council action has been put off.

On Jan. 20, on a motion by Council President Jackie Hardy, seconded by Councilor Greg Verga, the City Council’s Budget & Finance Committee voted 3-0 to table the matter.

“This department certainly has done some outreach,” and will continue to do so, city Planning Director Gregg Cademartori said Friday,

In a letter to the granting agency in September, Mayor Carolyn Kirk wrote that “the development of renewable energy to both reduce the city’s energy costs and to promote clean and renewable energy sources is one of the major goals of my administration.”

Kirk noted that officials were also involved in the preparation of a similar feasibility study for a city-owned site at the Blackburn Industrial Park.

Magnolia Woods, a 277-acre parcel owned by the city, primarily features forested land surrounding a large cleared area of about 40 acres that includes the former city dump that was capped more than a decade ago. More than half of the open land has been redeveloped as athletic playing fields.

Proposed wind turbine sites, both at elevations of about 150 feet, are located immediately to the west, and about 500 feet east of the playing fields, respectively.

At the Jan. 20 City Council committee meeting, Jane Porter of Ryan Road recalled longtime efforts to get the regional landfill cleaned up and closed and suggested there should be more residential involvement in considering the grant application, according to the official minutes of the meeting.

At the same meeting, according to the minutes, Community Development Director Sarah Garcia said there was no done deal and no master scheme to take advantage of Magnolia, and indicated a willingness to talk over the issue with people in the area.

“The next step is to have a ward meeting,” Verga said Friday.

“I’m on the record in favor of the city finding locations for wind turbines that would benefit the city,” Verga added, saying that planning officials believed two turbines, depending on how they were operated, could meet the electricity needs of all municipal buildings in the city.

Verga said he hoped to host a ward meeting on the issue in early March.

The city has been interested for years in building a municipal wind turbine to defray its power costs.

Under a 2008 state law, wind turbine operators are allowed to sell power back into the electrical grid. Previously, turbine owners were only allowed to use the electricity they generated to power a facility on site.

Last spring, Gloucester changed its wind power ordinance to free turbines from buildings and effectively allow them on more remote properties with greater distance from sensitive neighbors.

The revised ordinance allows windmills on properties of at least 12.5 acres in the three most rural residential districts as well as on all municipally-owned land.

All wind projects still need a special permit from City Council.