Celebrating 30 years of Hingham energy activism

By Louise Z. Smith
Special to the Journal
Posted Mar 30, 2010

Hingham — Celebrating 30 years of energy activism, REACH (Responsible Energy Alternatives Coalition of Hingham) addresses many aspects of the town’s energy needs, emphasizing conservation and exploring development of alternative energy sources (solar, wind, hydroelectric, and biomass). Today, REACH/Hingham Wind, aims to help bring wind-generated electricity to the town.

In 1979, Pat Granahan founded REACH as a “no nukes” organization, opposing the purchase by Hingham Municipal Lighting Plant of some of the town’s electricity from the Seabrook, N.H., nuclear power plant. The Three Mile Island crisis in 1979 (and later the Chernobyl disaster in 1986) dramatized the safety hazards of nuclear energy, which was also a poor financial risk for the town. Clearly, the town would be wise to minimize reliance on nuclear power. As a coastal community with strong winds, and with its municipally owned Lighting Plant able to realize strong cost benefits from owning its own turbines, Hingham was – and is – well-advised to explore wind energy. To that end, Ms. Granahan, who served as commissioner on the Hingham Municipal Light Board from 1983 through 1986, asked the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy Resources to study efficiency and renewable energy for the HMLP. The study included both load management and wind generation, particularly testing wind velocity on Turkey Hill. Data gathered did not support further action at that time.

Some 20 years later, advances in wind technology prompted REACH to re-evaluate the potential for generating wind energy. It founded Hingham Wind in 2006 as an ad hoc advisory group to HMLP and the Light Board. Hull had already pioneered the use of wind turbines. Its first turbine, on Windmill Point, next to Hull High School, was producing electricity by 1985. Its second was operating by 2006. (See hullwind.org.) Working with the University of Massachusetts’ Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, Hingham Wind surveyed several sites including the landfill, Brewer Reservation, South Shore Country Club, Turkey Hill, Stodder’s Neck State Park, the Bouvé property near Hingham Shipyard, Bare Cove Park, Prospect Hill and South Shore Industrial Park. In 2007, Hingham Wind co-sponsored a Town Energy Forum at which RERL explained how wind turbines work and what features make a feasible site for a turbine (such as freedom from tall obstructions; good road access for installation, maintenance, and transmission lines; a buffer zone between the turbine and wetlands; a safe “fall zone”). Hingham Wind co-sponsored two other forums on alternative energy during 2008, “Green and Affordable Energy Options for Massachusetts – Focus on Wind” by Larry Chretien and “Community Scale Wind” by Steven J. Strong.

Two years ago, the HMLP working with Hingham Wind commissioned Lighthouse Electric Contracting of Pembroke to install a “met” (meteorological) tower to measure wind velocity at the landfill in February 2008. On Dec. 1, 2008, HMLP and Hingham Wind co-sponsored a Town Hall Forum, at which preliminary data were presented and discussed. Data completed in February 2009, corroborated RERL’s predictions. HMLP then commissioned Atlantic Design Engineers LLC, of Sandwich, to analyze this and two other sites (Stodder’s Neck State Park and the Technology Park owned by A. W. Perry). Atlantic’s report was submitted in June 2009. Concurrently, HMLP is also considering the purchase of electricity generated by wind turbine facilities in the Berkshires and in Maine.

REACH is a nonprofit organization, unaffiliated with other environmental groups. Groups co-sponsoring various Hingham Wind events have included Hingham Habitat for Humanity, Old Ship Church Green Sanctuary, First Parish Unitarian Church of Norwell, the Weir River Watershed Association, the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women. Hingham Wind’s individual members work with many other organizations, including Sustainable South Shore, Water Works and the Green Sanctuary at Old Ship Church. One of its members, Clayton Handleman of Heliotronics Inc., helped students install solar panels on the Hingham High School roof. REACH/Hingham Wind co-president Pam Harty chairs the town’s Energy Action Committee. To learn more, visit hinghamwind.org.

Meanwhile, at a recent Sustainable South Shore meeting, Scituate residents reported that their town now has a bylaw in place for commercial construction of its first wind turbine on a site near the waste treatment plant. The turbine will reduce the town’s electricity costs.