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Norwell: Wind study sparks debate

Norwell – As a means of “going green,” communities are looking at alternative sources of energy to generate power, and possibly cut back on costs.

Already Norwell has taken a progressive step forward with the installation of the solar panels at the middle school.

Now one local family is looking into the option of wind energy to help bring power to the family farm.

Bruce Meacham and his brothers grew up on the 42-acre homestead located on Mt. Blue Street.

“It was a great place as a kid,” Meacham said of the fields and woods of the property. “It’s a great place now.”

Times are tough, however, especially for small farms.

The Meachams want to preserve the farm, which dates back to the 1700s and where the family has lived since the 1940s.

Meacham said he feels that adding an irrigation system could benefit the farm and that wind energy could possibly provide the power for pumping water and running the equipment.

However, before talks can even begin on constructing a wind turbine, Meacham said that a study would need to be done to determine if there is sufficient wind to generate enough power to make a turbine worthwhile.

“Unless there is sufficient wind energy over Mount Blue, a wind turbine would not produce enough income to pay for itself,” he said. “The only reliable way to measure the wind energy is to erect a temporary meteorological (MET) study tower to capture the seasonal wind speed and direction information at three elevations over the course of a year.”

Members of the Wind Energy Center (WEC) at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst will raise the met tower and perform the wind energy study, Meacham said.

After holding two hearings on the issue, the Norwell Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted unanimously last month in favor of Meacham’s application to raise the temporary 200-foot guyed tubular steeled tower. The tower, which will be in place for one year, will support cross arms holding meters and wind vanes that will measure wind speed and direction.

According to the ZBA, the tower will be situated approximately 500 feet from the nearest neighboring lot line and approximately 800 feet from the nearest neighboring house.

Meacham said the tower would not make any noise.

“This is a pretty secluded spot,” he said, standing at the top of the hill where the temporary tower would be raised. “There’s no one close by.”

He also said he has received approval for the temporary tower from the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Mass. Department of Transportation – Aeronautics Division.

In July 2010 the ZBA denied his initial Special Permit application because they determined the met tower would lead to a commercial application in a residential zone, Meacham said.

The Town of Norwell currently has no zoning by-laws for wind turbines.

“My plan was to sell the electricity directly to the town at a fixed wholesale rate under Governor (Deval) Patrick’s Green Energy Act net metering rules,” he said. “Depending on the amount of wind energy and the size of the wind turbine, such an arrangement could generate savings to the town on its municipal electric bills in excess of $200,000 a year.”

Meacham points out that Scituate will have its first commercial scale wind turbine operating by April of next year.

“Their 1.5 megawatt wind turbine will sit on a 256-foot tower with blades that will reach to 397 feet at maximum tip height,” he said. “At a Capacity Factor of 25%, Scituate’s wind turbine will generate about 50% of the town’s municipal electrical energy needs. The people of Scituate had to put up no money to benefit from this arrangement, with an average savings of over $210,000 per year over a 15-year contract.”

He added that Scituate is also putting a 3.0-megawatt solar panel array on the Driftway Landfill cap that will cover another 38% of the town’s municipal electricity demand.

He said he re-applied for a Special Permit in July 2011 to erect a met tower to see if there is sufficient wind energy for a smaller scale wind turbine that could power future agricultural development on the farm such as pumps that would serve an irrigation system.

“R&C Farms in Scituate currently grows vegetables on five acres of the farmland,” he said. “I have re-cleared an additional three acres of what used to be open fields 50 years ago, and could clear another two acres for a total of ten acres (Meacham already leases five acres). A natural spring on the property would provide the water for the irrigation system.”

Meacham said he is fully aware that there are those against the temporary tower, but stresses that this is just the initial phase of the process.

James Trenz owns property across the street from the Meacham farm. He said he is against Meacham raising a met tower, as well as the idea of a wind turbine, “for several reasons.”

“What is it going to do to our real estate values?” he said, should a wind turbine be constructed. “There are a lot of birds of prey in the area. That is their natural habitat.”

In addition, Trenz, a petroleum engineer who said he has dealt with the issues of wind turbines in the past, expressed concern over the noise a wind turbine would make, as well as potential shadow and visual problems.

“It will be seen by the whole area, including areas of Scituate,” Trenz said.

Trenz said he has filed an appeal regarding the ZBA’s decision to allow the met tower.

“I think there are several things that the ZBA did not consider in their function as a board,” he said, adding he believes the ZBA did not look at all the prerequisites according to the statute that would allow the tower based on agricultural exemption.

He said there are upwards of 50 people he knows of who are opposed to a wind turbine.

“And I haven’t even spoken with anyone in Scituate yet,” he said.

Meacham said the concept of putting a wind turbine on Mount Blue Street originally came from two of the Norwell Water Commissioners, Fred St. Ours and Peter Dillon, in March 2007.

“The idea appealed to me as a possible way of producing income that would allow our family to avoid selling off the land to developers,” Meacham said.

Meacham has educated himself on the subject of wind power and turbines.

“I attended a graduate level course, Engineering Windpower Systems, taught at Umass-Amherst in the fall of 2009. In June 2010 I became a member of the Town of Scituate’s Renewable Energy Committee.”

Meacham explains erecting the MET tower “is just a scientific study and the tower is temporary.”

“If sufficient wind is found on the hill, I will have to apply for a separate permit,” he said. “In order to obtain a Special Permit to erect a commercial wind turbine on Mount Blue, the town would have to vote in favor of a wind turbine zoning by-law plus a wind turbine overlay district on top of Mount Blue at Town Meeting.”