The town of Hull has hired former congressman William Delahunt to help find a company interested in testing wind turbines off Nantasket Beach.
The goal is to create a research institute in Hull that focuses on wind-generated energy – similar in scope to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod and with a similar positive effect on the local economy, said Hull Town Manager Philip Lemnios.
“The mantra we have here is that ‘Woods Hole wasn’t always Woods Hole,’ ’’ Lemnios said. “That part of Falmouth hosts one of the [country’s] preeminent maritime research facilities, and there’s no reason why the South Shore and Hull can’t be home to one of the preeminent institutes for sustainable energy and wind energy.
“Yes, it’s a lofty goal, but if they’re not lofty, they’re not very good goals. If we can pull it off, for Hull it would mean an expansion of our commercial and educational base, and it also would have some significant ramifications for the South Shore in general.’’
Under the agreement, The Delahunt Group will receive $15,000 a month for the next six months, with 80 percent of the money coming from a federal Department of Energy grant, Lemnios said. The town-owned Hull Light Plant will pay the remaining 20 percent, he said.
Hull, population about 11,000, already has two land-based wind turbines that provide about 11 percent of the town’s electricity, and originally had planned to build an offshore wind farm itself – four turbines about 2 miles off Nantasket Beach. The town scrapped the plan last spring, though, because it was too expensive.
Initial cost estimates ranged from $40 million to $80 million, far more than anticipated and far more than the land-based turbines in town. Hull 1, which started operating in 2001, cost $802,000; Hull 2, which came on line in 2006, cost $3.2 million.
“We’ve come to realize it’s too big a project and we couldn’t put that on the back of our rate-payers,’’ said Patrick Cannon, chairman of the town light board.
Cannon said the focus shifted toward finding a company or academic group that could use the Hull site for research and development, with some built-in benefit for the town’s electrical customers.
“The devil is in the details, but whether we get payment or electricity, we have to make it worth our while,’’ Cannon said.
Hull’s sales pitch was that its offshore turbines would be easily accessible – just 1.8 miles from land – and that the Greater Boston area’s heady pool of brainpower in universities and labs is accessible by boat or train.
Plus, “you’ve got a community that’s already proven it’s welcoming to turbines and alternative energy,’’ Cannon said. “There is pride in town, for a little town like us doing it on our own.’’
Hull’s turbines have won regional and national awards, including a Wind Power Pioneer Award from the US Department of Energy, which praised the town for its “outstanding leadership in advancing the use of wind power in a coastal community.’’ In fact, the far tip of the Hull peninsula is called Windmill Point, named for the Dutch-style windmill built there in the early 1800s to pump saltwater into vats where the salt was harvested.
But town officials quickly realized they needed help getting in the door to make their case for becoming a research-and-development center, and they contacted Delahunt.
“Hopefully, having someone of his profile will help; he’s been around, he’s got a lot of contacts,’’ Cannon said.
Delahunt, a former district attorney, left Congress in January 2011 after 14 years representing the 10th District, which includes much of the South Shore, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. His new company, The Delahunt Group, has offices in Boston, Quincy, and Hyannis and describes itself as “a public policy and government affairs consulting firm.’’
Executive director Mark Forest, Delahunt’s chief of staff on Capitol Hill, said Delahunt had a strong interest in renewable energy and particularly energy generated by the ocean. Forest said Delahunt was very involved in helping the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth establish the Marine Renewable Energy Center in New Bedford, which is working on tidal energy.
A research institute focused on offshore wind would be a good complement to the UMass program, he said. Scientists from University of Massachusetts Amherst have worked with Hull on its past wind projects.
“Industry and the [federal] Department of Energy are looking for test sites and development centers,’’ Forest said. “Hull is very well positioned. They’ve made a name for themselves and are considered pioneers [in wind power]. It’s clear the community wants to be in the offshore wind area. They could be one of the first communities in the East Coast that gets most of its energy from renewables.’’
Hull Selectman Domenico Sestito said he’s cautiously optimistic that the town can bring in a research-and-development facility.
“It could be a game changer for the long-term future of the town,’’ he said. “It could bring jobs, change the demographics, and help our schools. We could ideally build the local economy around the institute.
“A lot of our businesses now are seasonal, destination oriented. We need something like this. There’s not much land to expand, not like Hingham with the [Hingham] Shipyard and Derby Street Shoppes. So we have to be creative. I really believe this is our future – to be like the Woods Hole of the [wind energy] industry.’’
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