SALEM – About 98 proponents and opponents of a wind turbine on Winter Island hopped aboard the Salem ferry yesterday on a voyage to the South Shore to discover what two turbines look and sound like.
As they were ferried to Hull, they could see the town’s three-bladed wind turbines slowly spinning in the distance. Three school buses then shuttled them to Hull Wind 2, which stands on top of an old landfill.
There, amid bright sun and a light, variable wind, they wandered under the massive tower and turbine looming overhead. They took photos and video, and at least one Salem resident, Hans Weedon, an engineer, brought along a decibel meter.
“Both of these turbines have become iconic for Hull,” said Hull Town Manager Philip Lemnios, who said he has heard few if any complaints from residents about noise and shadow flicker from the blades, concerns voiced by those fighting the wind turbine plan in both Salem and Marblehead.
The older of Hull’s wind turbines was commissioned in 2001 and cost under $1 million to build. It paid for itself in seven years, Lemnios said. The larger turbine, Hull Wind 2, cost $3.3 million to build, including $1 million for extensive foundation work because it was erected on a landfill. That turbine, commissioned in May 2006, will take 12 years to pay for itself, he said. They each cost about $40,000 to maintain through a service contract.
The turbines provide about 14 percent of Hull’s power, Lemnios said.
On a second stop at the smaller turbine, residents could see it not only overlooks the ocean but sits adjacent to Hull High. A girls field hockey game was being played in a field below the turbine.
“My comment to Salem residents is they are beautiful machines; they work well,” Lemnios said.
Proponents of the Salem turbine, including Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and members of the Salem Renewable Energy Task Force, tout the city’s proposed $4.2 million, 1.5-megawatt unit as an economic engine.
It could potentially generate up to $700,000 annually. The power the turbine generates has the potential to offset up to half of the cost of the city’s municipal energy use. It’s enough to juice 500 homes.
“It was certainly meant to give people a feel for what we may experience around Winter Island,” Driscoll said of the trip. “Hopefully, it has allayed fears for people.”
Driscoll said the city wants to make sure a wind turbine will not change the character of Winter Island as a place where people come to stroll Fort Pickering, launch a boat or camp out overnight.
Some of the money generated by the turbine would be used to fund improvements spelled out in a master plan for the park, Driscoll said. The money could also pay for an outdoor amphitheater or walking and cycling paths.
The closest residence to the wind turbine would be the Plummer Home for Boys, which is 1,300 feet away, Driscoll said. The home has not expressed concerns to her office, she said.
A feasibility study picked Winter Island as the only city-owned site where the wind would be sufficient to power the turbine.
Opponents on yesterday’s trip said they like the idea of alternative energy, but many are skeptical about putting an industrial structure that would rival the height of the stacks at the Salem power plant in a park.
They are also concerned that the turbine will generate a low-frequency hum that could grate on nerves and cause people to lose sleep or get headaches. Some are also concerned about its shadow flickering across neighborhoods.
After seeing the tower in Hull, Edward Moriarty Jr., president of the opposition group, Salem Wind, said he had not changed his mind.
“I’m glad I came,” he said.
Hull’s larger wind turbine is in a remote part of town, Moriarty said, something Winter Island is not.
“I’m absolutely shocked that they took us to a windmill that’s in a landfill behind a locked gate,” said Elizabeth Wolf, a turbine opponent who lives on Bay View Avenue in Salem Willows.
Salem’s proposed turbine site is in the vicinity of the flagpole at the harbormaster’s office at one tip of the island. The site was in plain view when the ferry left and returned to the Blaney Street landing yesterday.
Dick Pabich and his wife, Diane, said they live 1,700 feet from the proposed turbine site. They had noise concerns, but those fears were allayed when they found the Hull turbines to be relatively quiet.
“I think that the trip put this to rest,” Pabich said of his noise concerns.
The next step in the process involves a balloon test this Saturday on Winter Island so residents can see how high the wind turbine might be.
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