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Benefits, concerns discussed at wind turbine hearing

Attendees at the first public hearing on a proposed 1.5 million kilowatt wind turbine on Winter Island expressed both support for and concern about the potential impact of such a project.

While most attendees agreed wind power is advantageous, many in the standing-room-only crowd expressed concern that putting a large wind turbine on the southern tip of Winter Island might not be such a good idea.

Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, Energy and Sustainability Manager Paul Marquis and the city’s Renewable Energy Task Force presented a plan to build a $4 million wind turbine on Winter Island.

According to the presentation, the proposed turbine would generate enough electricity to power 300 to 500 homes. It would pay for itself in about eight years and then save the city $586,000 a year in electricity costs. The proposal suggested the wind turbine might be built by fall of 2012.

“This is not a done deal,” Driscoll assured several opponents. “This is the beginning of the process.” The mayor expressed support for the project, calling it “progressive” and part of the City’s commitment to being a green community.

Several opponents to the Winter Island location, including Councilors-at-Large Joan Lovely and Steven Pinto said they felt the city was moving too fast.

Calling Winter Island “our jewel,” Lovely said she is concerned that “little” Winter Island is not large enough to support a turbine. “I don’t want to rush through this,” she said.

Pinto agreed. “It seems we are in a rush. We need to slow down, take a couple of steps back,” he said. The councilor, who lives in the nearby Willows neighborhood, said: “We have a long way to go.”

The mayor said the wind turbine project has been under consideration for years.

“I don’t feel we are rushing at all,” she added.

Driscoll assured the crowd that the wind turbine would have to be approved by several committees and boards and ultimately by the City Council and the Mayor’s office.

A $400,000 Mass Clean Energy Center (CEC) grant and a $700,000 grant from the Mass Energy Consumers’ Alliance (MECA) are being pursued to fund the project.

The members of the Renewable Energy Task Force, who attended the hearing, said the wind turbine project has been studied for years.

“I have seen the ability for people to live with wind power,” said Jeff Barz-Snell, a member of the Task Force.

The three-hour hearing focused mostly on how noisy a 382-foot wind turbine would be. Some said they have stood directly under a similar one in Hull and heard nothing. Others agreed with Ed Moriarty that the city should not approve a windmill that is “so tall, so wide and so loud.”

Kevin Harvey, an opponent, argued that in Falmouth, the wind turbine there was so loud, it must be shut down when the wind exceeds 25 miles per hour.

Malcolm Brown, a former Hull city light commissioner, said the Falmouth wind turbine is much older technology and a different type of turbine than the ones in Hull or the one proposed for Salem. The Falmouth turbine is very loud, while the Hull turbines are so popular that a third one is under consideration, he said.

Opponents also questioned the potential health affects the wind turbine might cause. Robert Levin said the pulse of the wind turbines upsets the rhythms of the human body.

Barz-Snell said there is no proven scientific evidence that turbines cause any health problems.

Task Force member Jenna Ide said the wind turbine would help replace some of the energy generated by fossil power plants, which do create pollution that causes health problems.

Other opponents said a wind turbine would hurt the redevelopment of Winter Island. But the mayor said funds from the wind turbine are needed to restore the old hanger and barracks that are in danger of collapsing.

About a quarter of the crowd came from Marblehead. They seemed to be evenly split in favor of and against the turbine. Opponents said they feared the noise would have an even greater impact on Naugus Head residents than Salem residents.

“This is the first time we have had so many Marblehead residents in one room in Salem,” Driscoll said, welcoming the neighbors from across the harbor.

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