QUINCY – For more than a decade, the tiny town of Hull was the lone producer of wind energy on the South Shore, with first one, then two, turbines eventually generating enough electricity to power nearly 1,000 homes.
But in the first eight months of 2012, seven additional wind turbines have been hoisted above communities on the South Shore. An eighth is going up in Plymouth by the end of the month, and others are proposed in Milton, Cohasset and Norwell. In fact, six of the 10 turbines built in Massachusetts that became operational this year were built on the South Shore.
Supporters say the turbines are the answer to reducing fossil fuel consumption and will save towns like Scituate $250,000 a year in energy costs. Others say they have altered the landscape and are affecting the health of nearby residents who have complained of headaches and disturbed sleep.
“There are real effects being felt,” said Tim Dwyer, who lives near the turbines on Country Club Way in Kingston. “We’re doing the best we can to encourage our officials, both local and state, to perform both extensive and ongoing surveillance.”
Federal energy grants and streamlined approval processes in towns like Kingston, where there are five turbines, are driving construction this year in a way that industry experts say may never be repeated.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s going to be more difficult for these private projects going forward,” said Joseph Balboni Jr., a developer who is preparing to erect a 370-foot-tall turbine in a Plymouth industrial park in a few weeks.
The rapid growth on the South Shore this year mirrors a statewide trend, according to Catherine Williams, spokeswoman for the quasi-public Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
“There will be more wind capacity installed in 2012 than in all the years combined since 2001,” she said.
On the South Shore, the seven turbines installed this year – only six have started operating – vary widely in height, financing and ownership. Three were built by a private developer, three were the work of South Shore towns, some working through complicated private-public partnerships, and one was built by the state.
In Scituate, Woburn-based Solaya Energy built and operates the turbine on town-owned property in exchange for the town’s agreement to buy discounted electricity from the company for the next 15 years. Hanover used state grants and water department money to pay for the turbine next to its sewer plant on Pond Street, expected to become operational soon.
Kingston, erection of wind turbines can be traced back to the 2008 passage of the Green Communities Act, which allowed towns to qualify for renewable energy grants if they agreed to streamline the approval process for renewable energy projects. Kingston was among the first towns to join the program, which laid the groundwork for the five turbines now spinning in the town.
“It was just like the one thing led to another, led to another,” said Nancy Howlett, Kingston’s acting town administrator.
For privately-owned turbines, the availability of federal grant funding has drawn developers to bring projects on line this year. The developers behind three of the wind turbines in Kingston and one in Plymouth both said they relied on a key federal grant, known as the 1603 Program, that ended last year.
“I wouldn’t be generating electricity without that,” said Mary O’Donnell who built three turbines on her property, a former gravel pit near Route 3, earlier this year.
And for every turbine that has been built, many other planned projects have been abandoned, shelved or tied up in lawsuits. Proposed turbines in Cohasset and Milton are still fighting legal challenges.
How power is measured
Kilowatt: 1,000 watts
Megawatt: 1 million watts, or 1,000 kilowatts.
Average household in U.S. used nearly 11,500 kilowatt hours in 2010.Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Owned: Town of Hull
Height: 240 feet
Location: Near Hull High School
Owned: Town of Hull
Height: 300 feet
Cost: $3.8 million
Location: Off George Washington Boulevard
Owned: Town of Hanover. Turbine will provide around 60 percent of the power needed for the town’s water treatment plant.
Height: 210 feet
Cost: $790,000, funded through grants and water department funds
Location: Off Pond Street
Owned: Private developer who agreed to pay the town $121,000 a year in taxes and lease payments.
Operational: May 2012
Height: 404 feet
Cost: Mpt available
Location: Former town landfill, adjacent to Route 3 near Exit 8
2-megawatt (3 turbines)
Owned: Developer Mary O’Donnell and her company, No Fossil Fuel. Energy sold to NSTAR.
Operational: January 2012
Height: 421 feet
Cost: $14 million combined
Location: Former gravel pit near Exit 8 on Route 3
Owned: MBTA. Turbine will provide 65 percent of the commuter rail station energy.
Operational: January 2012
Height: 120 feet
Cost: $2.5 million
Location: Kingston Commuter Rail Station
Owned: Private investors, including Joe Balboni. Turbine construction is due next month. Energy will be sold to NSTAR.
Operational: Expected next month
Height: 370 feet
Cost: Not available
Location: Camelot Industrial Park, off Long Pond Road
Owned: Private developer on town-owned land. Town has agreed to buy dicounted energy for 15 years at a savings of $250,000 a year.
Operational: March 2012
Height: 390 feet
Cost: About $4 million, paid by developer.
Location: Off the Driftway
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