MIT is looking to build a wind turbine in Middleton, but for now, the issue is still up in the air.
Last week, the Middleton Planning Board unanimously voted to recommend a 72-foot wind turbine at the MIT Bates Linear Accelerator Center. If approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, the turbine will be built using a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, in partnership with Keystone Tower Systems of Somerville.
Because Middleton has no local law on the books that allow wind turbines, MIT is applying for a use variance from the Zoning Board. The MIT Bates team is also requesting site plan approval, and is hoping to begin construction of the turbine at their Manning Avenue location this coming fall.
“This project is in support of MIT’s commitment to tech innovation, enviro-protection, and clean energy,” Bates Facilities Manager, Stephen Miscowski, wrote in the application for the project.
Most commercial wind turbines are one or two megawatt machines, MIT Senior Campus Planner Kelley Brown said at last week’s meeting. A turbine in Newburyport, for instance, is about 300 feet, and one in Ipswich is over 400 feet. This one will be used for educational, rather than commercial, purposes, and will therefore be much smaller.
“I think it’s helpful to see it in contrast to the water tower up there, which is about 100 feet high,” Brown said.
“This is dwarfed by the Regional Essex Communications Center’s tower,” added board member Christine Lindberg, “which is 250 feet.”
The turbine MIT plans to build is a ten-kilowatt machine expected to generate about 7,000 kilowatt-hours per year, said Chris Babcock of Keystone Tower Systems.
Planning Board member John Knott wanted to know why MIT wasn’t planning to build a larger tower on the Bates campus.
Babcock explained that because the turbine would be primarily for educational purposes, MIT feels this size makes the most sense.
“I think the purpose here is more for the educational showcase of the technology,” Babcock said.
The turbine is intended to provide live demonstrations of the benefits of wind energy for MIT students as well as interested community members.
“Back three or four years ago, we were looking at a one- or two-megawatt turbine,” Miscowski added. “But we’re no longer running the accelerator like we have in the past, so our consumptions have diminished quite a bit.”
Babcock and Brown spent several minutes assuring the board that, because of the turbine’s size and location, it would not be visible from many places in town.
Babcock showed the board pictures he had taken from roads in the area, including Maple Street, Mansfield Road, Prentiss Road, and Manning Road.
“The best view is from where the (tech) school is being built on Maple Street,” Brown said. “Right now, you can just see the water tower from there.”
“The closest property line is this one on Mansfield Road,” Babcock added, “and you’re looking through about 800 feet of pretty dense trees.”
Board member Beverly Popielski asked if the turbine will be more visible from Mansfield Road in the fall, when the trees in the area lose their leaves.
“I think from Mansfield you’d be looking uphill,” Babcock said, “and through trees that will still provide a lot of cover, even without the leaves.”
Town Planner Katrina O’Leary agreed that on the site plan, the turbine “is pretty well hidden.”
Lindberg asked if anyone from Bates had talked to the Middleton Electric Light Department.
“I’m in contact with Mark Kelly [at the Electric Light Department],” Miscowski said. “We talked about the arrangement for the [energy] buy-back if this goes through, and the development of a contract for wind turbines.”
After the meeting, O’Leary said she wasn’t aware a buy-back was being discussed, but it could be a good option for the town.
“From what I understood, the electricity was going to stay on-site,” she said. “But I think it would be good if we could have more relationships like that, where people could sell energy back to the town.”
The wind turbine application might result in updates to other town policies, O’Leary said, depending on how residents react at next week’s public hearing.
“Variances are very difficult to get,” she noted. “But it is opening up our eyes to possibly creating new zoning to allow wind turbines.”
The Public Hearing on this issue will be next Thursday, July 24, at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at 7 p.m. in the Fuller Meadow School Media Center.