SWAMPSCOTT – The town is considering building a $3 million, 335-foot-high wind turbine at the middle school that would supply the school with electricity.
“It’s part of our comprehensive approach to energy,” said Victoria Masone, the assistant town engineer.
A $75,000 grant from the Massachusetts Center for Clean Energy paid for a feasibility study. The hefty, yearlong analysis prepared by Meridian Associates of Beverly calls for a 900-kilowatt turbine.
“This scenario yields a positive (financial) return at 16 years,” according to the study.
Masone said the project is likely years from being built and is in its early stages.
“It is anticipated that all of the wind energy produced by the installation of a wind turbine generator will be utilized by Swampscott Middle School,” the study says.
The turbine would supply “between 30 to 40 percent of the energy (for) the middle school,” Masone said.
Over the past three or four years, a group from the University of Massachusetts offered free site surveys for municipalities interested in building wind turbines.
“The group from UMass came out and evaluated four different sites,” Masone said. “(It) honed down onto one site, the Forest Avenue site.”
After the location was chosen, MassCEC provided the town with the grant to hire Meridian Associates. The study looked at numerous variables, including wind speed, noise, shadows, permitting roadblocks and financial impact.
It was released in June, and Jonathan Markey from Meridian gave a presentation to the town’s Renewable Energy Committee and some abutters. The report is technically in draft form – it must go through an additional review process – but it is likely very close to its final form.
Though the turbine project has been contemplated for a few years, so far it hasn’t seen much public light.
“Up to this point, we weren’t really open (about the project) because we weren’t sure the project was viable,” Masone said.
The turbine, which the study said would probably generate about 1.75 million kilowatt-hours per year, would help Swampscott reach its goal of reducing its fossil fuel consumption.
It would be visible to a number of nearby neighborhoods and would increase noise levels no more than 10 decibels, according to the report.
The study wasn’t done with much public input, but Masone said now that it’s complete, the town wants to have open dialogue with residents.
“I don’t want to be holding back information,” Masone said. “I want to keep people as informed as possible.”
Already, the project has its detractors.
“It’s a great big volume,” Clayton Curtis, a Parsons Drive resident, said of the 2-inch-thick document. “When you see something like that, I would suspect we are within a signature of getting the whole thing passed through.”
Curtis believes the turbine would harm his quality of life.
“I am against it. It is the placement here. You don’t put this in the middle of a residential area,” he said. “The noise level, and it is not a great aesthetic thing looking at a great big propeller up in the air.”
Another nearby resident, Bill Bochnak of Nason Road, said the project is “viable.”
“I think this is a trend that is just starting,” he said. “It is part of what is going to emerge as the need to find (new) energy solutions.”
“(With) new technology people are going to be skittish,” Bochnak said.
Lynn Nadeau is the treasurer for HealthLink, which advocates for clean energy to promote public health.
“It would be great for Swampscott, great for the community, and a great example for the rest of the country and world to see more specific (examples) of distributive energy,” she said, referring to small, clean energy generators instead of major, traditional power plants. “What we have to do is produce electricity that doesn’t make people sick down the road.”
Nadeau said HealthLink is “100 percent” behind a wind turbine in Swampscott.
Resident Scott Macey isn’t convinced.
“I’m concerned by it. I don’t think it’s right economically for Swampscott,” he said. “People don’t understand what is being contemplated.”
There will be plenty of time for discussion, however, Malone said. If approved, the turbine would likely be up in “greater than five years.”
There are numerous obstacles. The feasibility study has to be reviewed by MassCEC, which will probably take three months. Design funds would have to be appropriated, grants applied for, Town Meeting would have to weigh in. Changes would have to be made on a legal agreement with Tedesco Country Club. All of this takes time, as do the numerous permits that must be submitted and approved.
The Renewable Energy Committee will have its next meeting on Aug. 24. The feasibility study will be on its agenda.
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