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UMass Dartmouth students, neighbors getting a glimpse at giant wind turbine

DARTMOUTH – Site work has started on a 243-foot wind turbine at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where the structure is expected to save the university an estimated $125,000 a year, equal to 1 or 2 percent of the campus’s energy use.

The turbine’s massive tower and blades, which still need to be assembled, sit on the side of Ring Road near where the turbine will stand. With the pieces in place, the scale of the turbine becomes apparent: even cars parked along Ring Road are dwarfed. The 600-kilowatt turbine will be only 12 feet shorter than the campanile tower at the center of campus.

The location – it is being built in a 100-yard-wide clearing between the center of campus and Cedar Dell Pond – caused some controversy when it was announced at a forum last November.

Cedar Dell Pond was called a “visual anchor” for what was then the Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute by Paul Rudolph, the architect who designed the campus. Restoring the “visual anchor” concept was part of the university’s Campus on Facilities Master Plan in 2005.

The university chose the clearing for the turbine in part because it is far from buildings and nearby off-campus homes. Fred Gifun, who wrote a book chronicling the university’s history, called the location “terrible” at the forum when the project was unveiled.

Students interviewed on Monday were unanimous in support of a clean energy project but were divided on the high-visibility location.

“I like the idea of that kind of energy, but I think they could have spent more time on the placement of it,” said Mary Shaw, a freshman from Conway. The campus’s more low-key atmosphere might not fit so well with such a large structure, Shaw said. “It’s so huge, it’s going to take away from it.”

Samantha Spielman, a freshman from New York, said she likes the idea of renewable energy and may be able to use the new turbine as a landmark to help orient herself on campus as she does now with the campanile. “But that’s such an awkward, random place for it.”

Jessica Burley, an arts student from Mansfield, saw the potential for something new to draw. “I don’t mind it. It’s not going to affect me,” she said of its location. “I feel like it’s not that big of a deal.”

Dean Ellis, a junior from California, felt much the same way. “If they were putting up 10 (turbines), I can see people not wanting it,” he said. “It’s just one though.”

For some students, the project’s environmental benefit is enough to make up for a location that they don’t find ideal. “It’s not necessarily the best spot for it,” said freshman Stacy Correia of Dartmouth. “But I wouldn’t mind seeing it, because of what it stands for.”

The turbine is part of a $35 million state-funded capital investment plan, which also included solar panels on the athletic center roof, more efficient interior lighting in buildings across campus and other initiatives.

Construction of the turbine was to begin last spring but was delayed because the turbine had not been stored properly and needed to have its components refurbished after it suffered weather damage. It is scheduled to be completed next spring.