A new law combined with higher energy costs and greater concern for the environment makes wind energy an increasingly attractive option for cities and towns.
When Hull Wind I started spinning in December 2001, the 165-foot wind turbine was a bold addition to the landscape.
But more striking was the effect on the town’s image: Hull became a visionary, a model of what a commitment to cleaner, cheaper energy looks like.
Richard Miller, the town’s operations manager, says he gets four or five calls a week from towns all over the country. “They all want to know how we did it,” he said.
Some of those questions are coming from Hull’s neighbors on the other South Shore, where slowly but surely, a mix of public and private interest is driving investment in wind power.
Since 2004, dozens of communities across the state have dangled a toe in the wind energy water. At last count, there were 25 proposed turbines in 13 towns on the South Shore. Plymouth leads the way, with two town initiatives, one county proposal and four from private companies.
“(Turbines) aren’t springing up overnight, but they’re coming,” said Kingston Selectman Mark Beaton, who sits on the town’s Green Energy Committee. “A small revolution is swelling up.”
Projects in Quincy, Cohasset, Marshfield, Scituate, and Hanover are likely a year or less away from reality, say their developers. At least three other towns have axed their plans, citing a lack of funding, a lack of political will, or in the case of a proposed turbine at Whitman-Hanson High School, a lack of wind.
Most plans are somewhere in the middle of the bureaucratic timeline of site survey, wind testing, public forums, city council approval, zoning board permits, and negotiations with design and construction firms.
Better wind technology, soaring energy prices, growing environmental concerns, and a new state law are sparking renewed interest in the ultimate in clean-green power.
Electricity prices have doubled in the past decade. At the same time, the power-generating ability of turbines has increased.
“Municipalities are realizing that we’ve got to change our act, and that there are better and better ways of powering our towns,” Beaton said.
Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Green Communities Act into law on July 2. It allows owners of wind turbines to sell their surplus electricity back to the power grid.
Towns can also receive credits that they can use to power municipal buildings such as schools, fire and police stations, and town halls. “Investing in wind power is suddenly much more attractive,” said Andrew Brydges, a consultant with KEMA Inc., which has worked on the Kingston turbine plan.
But even with the legislative push, progress is slow. At least a year’s worth of wind speed data is needed to justify building a turbine. Grant money is available from the state, but town and city officials have to approve the application. Deciding who pays up front for the turbines – which run between $1 and $4 million, depending on size and capacity – who owns and operates them, and who gets the surplus power can be tricky. And most zoning bylaws, decades old, do not clearly spell out how to handle emerging wind technology.
“There’s a lot legwork and a lot of paperwork involved,” Beaton said. “It’s definitely a process.
And then there’s the job of actually getting the turbine, most of which are built overseas. Several towns reported wait times of eight months to two years.
“It’s to the point where just getting on a waiting list is tough,” said John Birtwell, public information director for Plymouth County Sheriff’s office, which has plans to build a turbine at the county jail.
But even with the bureaucratic bottleneck and backordered turbines, there’s a stiff wind, and it’s only blowing in one direction.
“We’re only going to see more and more of these projects,” said James Sweeney, whose Plymouth-based energy company, CCI Energy, has contracts to build turbines in Cohasset and Marshfield. “That’s where the legislation is going and that’s where the interest is.”
HOW IT WORKSThe wind turns the blades of the turbine around a rotor. The rotor is attached to a shaft which spins a generator. Inside the generator, coils of copper wire spin inside magnets. The magnetic force pushes electrons out of their shells in the copper wire, resulting in a flow of electrons. Moving electrons are called electricity. WIND POWER ON THE SOUTH SHORE
There are currently only two working wind turbines on the South Shore, plus one in Dorchester and another at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. But there are more than a dozen proposals in various stages of development. From the four offshore turbines being proposed in Hull to seven different proposed turbines in Plymouth, wind energy is the hot topic among town planners.
THE MONEY TRAIL
The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is backing wind energy projects across the state. On the South Shore alone, the collaborative has doled out almost $3.7 million in 20 grants. The money comes from a surcharge on retail energy – about a penny for every 20 kilowatt-hours. A sampling of the local projects:
The Bank of Canton received $40,000 to put up a 160-foot tower to test wind speeds at its Turnpike Street branch.
Hull got $1.7 million for its proposal to build four turbines on a shoal about 1.5 miles off Nantasket Beach. The turbines would have about five times the combined capacity of Hull Wind I and II.
In Quincy, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority received $26,000 for a feasibility study, then $500,000 to go toward design and construction of a 328-foot wind turbine on Nut Island.
Hanover got $250,000 for a turbine at its Pond Street wastewater treatment plant.
A few local wind turbine projects have been stalled or abandoned completely, either for lack of funding, lack of political will or lack of wind.
The Whitman-Hanson school district axed plans for a 160-foot turbine when a test tower showed there isn’t enough wind to power it, Superintendent John McEwan said.
State plans for a turbine in the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton stalled out a year ago, said Steven Clark, a spokesman for the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
A request from the Weymouth town council to explore wind speeds at the South Weymouth Naval Air Base was shot down by the base developer, which is planning a massive residential and commercial complex.
The Patriot Ledger