Gloucester – Monday was a blustery day for Cape Ann, and it blew in with it some new ideas on Gloucester’s wind energy research.
Ward 5 City Councilor Greg Verga hosted a meeting at the Magnolia Library on Monday night about research that’s being done on wind power. The city has been offered an $85,000 grant to conduct research on a site in Magnolia Woods. The City Council has not yet made a decision to accept the grant.
The meeting centered on a PowerPoint presentation conducted by Clean Energy Commission Chairman Sam Cleaves of Lanesville. Cleaves has been volunteering his time to research the potential for wind energy on Cape Ann.
“My purpose is to introduce what CEC has been doing,” namely to gather information, said Cleaves.
His presentation looked at three sites the city is considering for potential placement of a wind turbine: Magnolia Woods off Western Avenue, Blackburn Industrial Park off the Route 128 extension, and Bond Hill, off of Western Avenue and Bond Street.
Last spring the city freed turbines from buildings, meaning turbines no longer have to be placed next to the facility that will use its energy. They can now be put in remote locations.
The turbines they are looking at for the Blackburn and Magnolia sites would be almost 150 feet tall and capable of producing 2 megawatts of energy. The turbines at Bond Hill would be smaller Pilot 100kw turbines. No decisions have yet been made, however, only proposals for research.
Community Development Director Sarah Garcia introduced Cleaves. He began volunteering in 2008 by approaching the Mayor about a group of people who had been meeting informally to talk about the use of renewable energy in Gloucester. The city showed interest. In 2009 they passed an ordinance and the first members were committed.
Garcia also added that a few years ago Gloucester residents were given the option of paying a little extra for clean power on their energy bill. She noted that the extra money went into a fund, now up to $100,000 for Gloucester to invest in cleaner energy. Some of it was spent on the solar compactors seen around the downtown area. In addition, Susan St. Pierre was hired to work half time on finding state grants and different forms of energy, after which the city has “gotten one grant after another,” according to Garcia.
The mission of the Clean Energy Commission was set by the administration and City Council, and Garcia noted that the efforts are city wide, “coming from citizens desiring to live more sustainable lives.” She also added that the City Council has been presented one application after another for wind power projects, and that certain Council members are “eager to take Gloucester off the grid.”
Cleaves began his presentation saying that the Clean Energy Commission has a goal to get Gloucester homes and businesses to be 20 percent more energy efficient within the next five years. Part of that goal includes a grant proposal for $198,000 to go toward renovations at the O’Maley Middle School and Talbot Rink.
When it comes to wind power, however, there are many factors to take into consideration, and though there is great support among residents for wind power, there are many concerns as to where it should be located. The main logistical factor is how much wind the site gets, but also how close it is to residents, and how accessible the site might be. Cleaves presented graphs indicating which areas of Cape Ann receive the most wind. He also indicated that many windy areas of Cape Ann weren’t feasible, however, because of resident abutters and accessibility. It was noted that Ravenswood and Dogtown, though prime locations for wind and low in residents, were not good places because of accessibility. There are few roads to cart in the large parts of the turbines, and some areas are protected by watershed regulations.
Magnolia residents expressed deep concern for the Magnolia Woods site, specifically the noise of the turbine, and the possible disturbance of the landfill at the top of the hill. After capping the landfill years ago, the city put soccer fields on the site off Western Avenue, and promised that the area would remain residential. Residents are not only concerned about toxic leakage, but also the city possibly breaking that promise.
Another concern is “flicker,” a side effect of the turbine’s blades casting flickering shadows against the sun. Many residents brought online reports to the meeting of people experiencing migraines and ringing in their ears after turbines were installed. One resident noted that Denmark runs primarily on wind energy, and it doesn’t seem like it is affecting residents to the point of making them move away.
Cleaves responded to these concerns saying, “Some people aren’t bothered at all, while some are externally affected.” Sarah Garcia added, “if it’s not a good fit then we won’t do it. We’re not going to do it at the expense of anybody.”
Right now the city is only looking to conduct a study in Magnolia Woods; there is no proposal of installing turbines. The study covers a two-mile radius, so the turbine could be put on a different location within that radius. According to a Meridian Associates employee Jon Markey, who is working with the city on the projects, the study would cover questions on wind speed, long term correction of data, acoustic analysis with monitoring equipment to ensure DPW regulations, flicker studies, and a financial analysis. “In short, it measures potential impacts to abutters and the economics,” said Markey. If the study goes through, a 160-foot meteorological tower would be installed to measure wind speeds, density and other aspects about air.
Councilor Verga is in favor of the study. “It’s new territory,” he said. “Let’s find a way to make it work, if not in this site, then another site.”
Should a site be approved, the city would most likely run the turbines by a power purchase agreement, getting a different company to install it and run it, relieving the city of the risk of the turbine not working and having to repair it itself.
Though Gloucester does not yet have a turbine, a proposal by Varian for two wind turbines has been approved. City officials at the meeting estimated that the Varian project would cost $6 million, and over the next 20 years produce $10 million in returns.
When asked why Gloucester should research wind power, Cleaves answered that the “resource is present, it’s a source of renewable energy, and it’s a buffer for the city, allowing them to keep electric costs in check.” His point was answered by large gusts of wind rattling the windows of Magnolia Library.
Whether or not wind power is right for Gloucester remains to be seen, and there are a lot of things for the community to consider. After the meeting, Verga commented that the people of Gloucester “should feel that they have an opportunity to be heard. We want what’s best for the city, but if anything is going to happen we need support from them. They are the team players.”
For more information on the Clean Energy Commission research, visit the commission’s page on the city website at http://www.gloucester-ma.gov/index.aspx?nid=266. To view Varian’s project, visit http://www.vsea.com/.
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