Swampscott – The Renewable Energy Committee sought to reassure citizens that a new study on a wind turbine at the Middle School is just the first step in a long process towards possible completion.
“This is the beginning of a process,” committee Chairman Neal Duffy said at their meeting Thursday, Sept. 22 in the Selectmen’s room at Town Hall. “There’s a really long timeline. There may be wrong messages it’s imminent. It’s misleading. We’re in the preliminary stages. It’ll be a long process if it continues. We understand concerns people have when they hear about a project like this and feel it’s already happened.”
The misunderstanding may have been the result of a Boston Globe article indicating the town had “announced preliminary plans” to build a turbine. What has happened is the Renewable Energy Committee has produced a study, called exploratory by member Wayne Spritz, that determined the best spot for a turbine and how it would comply with state guidelines for windiness and for noise levels. “Without this study, we wouldn’t know what we’re talking about. Now we do. If in the future there’s a smaller turbine, we have data for a comparison,” Duffy said. “We need to continue to look at this study and at some point report to the selectmen as to the best way to go forward. Just because it meets state regulations, it doesn’t mean we find it acceptable as a community. That’s what we want to find out. This doesn’t mean the town will begin building a wind turbine at this site. It’s a study.”
It’s still in draft form and will be submitted to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which provided funds for the study, for comment before a final draft is composed. The study determined land behind the Middle School was the best site in town over sites at Phillips Park, near the High School track and on Aggregate Industries land. “There’s no perfect site to put a turbine in a densely populated town,” Duffy explained. “This is the one with the least flaws.”
The turbine would be 335 feet high compared to the 276 foot turbine in Chelsea, easily seen from Revere Beach Parkway just before it crosses over Broadway in Revere. It will produce 100 percent of the power for the Middle School, which is only one-third of the entire output. “The rest goes back to the grid and we get money for that,” Duffy said. “The electric meter runs backward.”
The estimated cost is $3 million with a payback period of 16 years during which the money saved on electricity will pay for the project. Another financial option is to contract out to a third party under a power purchase agreement. The turbine will be shut off in high winds and will not run in low winds but the Middle School will still be attached to the electric grid regardless. “It’ll reduce the electric bill by the amount it produces,” Spritz said.
A prime factor is the feasibility of connecting the turbine to a town building. “It can credit kilowatt hours against the entire government of Swampscott, everything on one account,” Spritz said. “If we didn’t connect to something we own, we couldn’t do that.”
He called the Aggregate land an ideal site with no residential concerns but it’s on private land. Wetlands abut the High School track but not the Middle School site and there are no schools close enough to Phillips Park. (Ah, if only the town had not sold the land next to Phillips where Bertram House is, site of the old Sawtelle Brothers lawn equipment company, and built the High School there.) Land behind the Middle School is also among the highest in town.
Residents expressed concern over various impacts.
“I’m concerned about property values,” said Ron Landen, who lives on Forest Avenue across the street from the Middle School. “Swampscott is an unfortunate place to be thinking of this. We have no land. No matter what you do, you’re putting it next to something. I don’t know if people appreciate if you put something up this big everyone will see it. It’ll be the tallest structure in town. I’m right there. Will I have a problem selling my house because I’m next to this thing?”
Spritz conceded, “Everyone on the North Shore will see it,” while Duffy corrected Landen saying it “would be” the tallest structure in town since there is no actual plan to build the turbine.
He also asked what would happen when the technology became obsolete.
Glenn Francis, who lives off Mountwood Road, thinks a turbine should be offshore like those he saw on a recent trip to Europe. “Turbines look nice in a harbor,’ he said. “If you can see it in the distance, it’s fine but if it’s in your neighborhood, it’s huge.”
He also favors using a third party feeling the other approach “is not appropriate for town government. We shouldn’t even being doing this discovery.”
Joel Whitman of 1 Salem Street wondered about noise. He and Francis said they hear activity at the Middle School.
Energy Committee member Milton Fistell, who handled noise issues for the Big Dig, replied the site is 800- to 900-feet from the nearest resident on Nason Road and meets regulations that allow sound seven decibels above the ambient noise, the base line for which is the quietest part of the day. Up to three decibels is inaudible with five being slight noise. Unfortunately, an acoustic consultant was told not to come after an engineering consultant cancelled due to illness. “I wanted then both here at the same time,” Duffy said. Their appearances will be rescheduled.
Smaller turbines are noisier than larger ones, slower turning ones nosier than faster turning ones. In Falmouth a turbine prompted noise complaints from residents. Committee members plan to find a turbine similar to the one planned for Swampscott and talk to people around it.
Landen quibbled with the committee that their action was simply exploratory. “You’re clearly in the preliminary stages. You’re not doing this for fun. You got money and hired somebody to do this.”
Spritz reassured him, or tried to, “Nothing’s been approved. Maybe we don’t pursue it. I’ll put it on the town. What are the priorities? Do you want a wind turbine and where?”
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