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Board rejects Swampscott wind turbine

SWAMPSCOTT – The Renewable Energy Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to reject a study’s recommendation to erect an approximately 350-foot-tall wind turbine behind the middle school. But committee members said they plan to continue exploring wind energy in town.

“We’re not rejecting wind altogether, we rejected this recommendation,” said committee member Milton Fistel.

“The next step is to weigh guidelines [for a project],” added Committee Chair Neal Duffy. “As new technologies come about, we want to have a methodology to discuss a project.”

The town began evaluating wind energy in 2008, when a laboratory at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst evaluated four sites in town. The town received a $75,000 grant in 2010 to hire Meridian Associates for a feasibility study at one site – just beyond the baseball diamonds on Forest Avenue – a draft of which was presented to the Renewable Energy Committee in July.

The study reported that a 900kW and approximately 350-foot-tall wind turbine could capture enough wind to reduce energy costs at the Middle School and Little League fields without exceeding state regulatory limits.

However the numbers were close. The wind resource was “just there,” to make it feasible, Duffy said before the meeting. Assistant Town Engineer Victoria Masone said the presumed increase in noise levels were acceptable according to state guidelines, but left a very small “margin of error.”

Over the course of the meeting, committee members covered the meeting room’s white board with questions and criteria that they wanted to evaluate before making a decision on whether to accept this recommendation or any other wind proposal.

Many of these questions reflected concerns raised by neighbors.

“The feasibility is minimal at best and there are a number of caveats,” said neighbor Jaren Landen. “Considering the layout of the street, the distance from homes and the neighborhood, I don’t feel it’s a good thing for the town.”

Committee members said that financial considerations, however, ultimately made them reject the recommended project. The study anticipated the project would pay for itself in 16 years – which committee members agreed was too long. Furthermore, an organization committee members said they hoped would help fund the project expressed concern that the project was too close to homes. Now, they plan to decide what criteria a project must meet to be considered.

“I think this study is good because it gives us a benchmark of what is not acceptable,” said Masone.