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Piece by piece, wind turbine finally arrives

IPSWICH – A convoy of trucks carrying three 132-foot-long wind turbine blades rolled through Ipswich yesterday, the start of a project eight years in coming.

The wind turbine, expected to be constructed and working before Memorial Day, will provide 3 percent of the town’s electricity needs.

After an eight-year history and a series of setbacks, it was a relief to see the trucks coming down Linebrook Road yesterday morning, said Tim Henry, director of utilities.

“I’ve never had a project that’s been so long to complete,” he said. “We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on this one.”

The $4.2 million turbine project is a partnership between the town utility company and public schools. The schools will pay $1.7 million, or 37 percent of its cost and upkeep, and the town will pay $2.6 million.

“If you don’t participate in these (alternative energy) projects, you’re buying energy from either oil- or gas-fired (power) plants,” Henry said. “There is a strong desire (in Ipswich) for us to have green energy.”

Ipswich Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy (ICARE), a grass-roots group that promotes renewable energy efforts, has been closely involved in the project.

The three turbine blades passed through Lord Square around 11 a.m. yesterday, headed to the project site at the end of Town Farm Road. The machine head, called a nacelle, will arrive around 1 p.m. this afternoon, following the same route.

A tall, red crane is poised to get to work at the turbine site, a former town landfill adjacent to salt marshes and inlets from Plum Island Sound.

The turbine’s three tower sections are scheduled to arrive Tuesday, and construction will start the next day, Henry said. The turbine will take roughly one week to construct and one month to do “commissioning” – working out the bugs and making sure all the components are working properly.

Henry said he expects the turbine to be working and feeding energy into the local power grid “shortly before Memorial Day.”

A long, bumpy road

Four years ago, the schools applied for a renewable energy bond and began exploring the idea of installing their own wind turbine at the high school on High Street.

The schools eventually partnered with the town wind turbine project when they found they would have trouble getting permits for the High Street site, Henry said.

Although the Ipswich schools were approved for the bond, they never found any buyers for the bond and will be doing traditional borrowing for the wind turbine’s cost with the town, Henry said.

It was Bill Ford, ICARE founder and former town power plant superintendent, who first had the idea for a wind turbine in Ipswich eight years ago.

“We began looking at it, and one thing led to another,” Henry said.

The first step was setting up a meteorological tower on the Town Farm Road site, which collected data for a year, followed by a feasibility and other site studies.

The project went out to bid the first time as part of the Berkshire Wind Project. General Electric, the project bidder, eventually dropped the Ipswich turbine because of concerns of ice throw from the blades reaching people at the nearby town compost site.

Ipswich went out to bid for the turbine project a second time and partnered with Quebec-based AAER Inc. The town lost a more than $25,000 deposit when AAER filed for bankruptcy in the summer of 2010.

General Electric became the final choice as the project went out to bid a third time. GE’s concerns about ice throw were rendered moot by newly developed software that shuts down the turbine in icy conditions, Henry said.

The project became a reality as the wind turbine’s base was built this month and parts started arriving this week, trucked from Florida and Iowa.

Residents and others interested in the project can check ipswichutilities.org for updates on the wind turbine delivery schedule and a photo gallery of the project.