Supporters and opponents join Driscoll in Hull wind turbine visit
By Sarah Thomasemail@example.com
Wicked Local North of Boston
Oct 21, 2011
Salem — From the prow of a high-speed catamaran traveling at 30 knots, there’s no other word for the wind turbines that dot the Massachusetts coast: beautiful.
There’s something appropriate about the juxtaposition of the white, graceful lines and the sun gleaming off the fast moving water, as if these most modern of landmarks deliberately recalled the white sails of the clipper ships — themselves the most technologically advanced method of harnessing the power of wind in their day — that made the region’s fortunes in centuries past.
On Tuesday afternoon, around 100 residents — those who support, oppose, or are undecided on the possibility of a wind turbine on Salem’s Winter Island — joined Mayor Kim Driscoll in a trip via the Salem Ferry to the South Shore town of Hull. Hull, which has one of the densest populations in the state, is also home to two wind turbines — one of which stands over the athletic fields of its high school.
Up close, and it’s a slightly different story. The turbines don’t become ugly, but they do become exceedingly strange. The only visual analogue for something that tall and slender to be standing right in front of you, after all, is a tree; this is a 180-foot white metal tree whose branches are whipping overhead at 6 miles an hour. It’s like something out of Alice In Wonderland.
As for the noise — it’s not loud, not the way a revving engine or a whining transformer is loud, but it’s repetitive. It sounds like nothing so much as a moderate swell beating against a seawall. Additionally, the sound changes much as the wind changes — sometimes it’s hesitant and halting, other times deeper and more sonorous.
The oddest thing about being under a wind turbine? By far, the shadows that chop the sunlight into spinning golden quadrants. There’s an involuntary urge to flinch, the sense that those blades are going to continue their downward arc and crash into the ground.
The trip, which was sponsored by the Salem Alliance for the Environment, included the ferry ride, a school bus shuttle between the two turbine sites and a talk by Phil Lemnios, Hull’s town manager. Lemnios said many of the residents in Hull when the turbines were commissioned in 2001 and 2006 had similar concerns to those voiced by many Salem residents, who are concerned that a turbine on a public park will impact the quality of life of neighbors and the recreational experience of those using Winter Island.
“We had a very lively community discussion, and by that I don’t mean it’s code for there was a lot of opposition, just neighbors being very involved and asking lots of questions,” Lemnios said. “But in the years since the turbines went up, I haven’t had any residents come up and complain to me about the noise. These have become iconic for our community. People, especially kids, love them.”
Hull’s two wind turbines are officially named Hull Turbine I and Hull Turbine II. The taller one is Hull Turbine II, which is 180 feet high with three 120-foot blades. It was built at a cost of $3 million. Lemnios said that the high cost was incurred because of the difficulty of constructing the 536,000-pound turbine’s foundation on the site, which sits atop a land fill. The turbine’s base is 14 feet in diameter; visitors can walk right up to the turbine base.
“Together, the electrical output of both turbines accounts for around 12 — 14 percent of Hull’s power needs, and we’ve seen a return on investment of 7 percent for Turbine II and 16 percent for Turbine I,” Lemnios said. “Hull has a municipal light department; we financed the turbines with cash on hand and we have been able to use the proceeds to keep our electric bills low.”
In Salem, the proposed turbine size and location was determined by a feasibility study that looked at wind monitoring efforts, proximity to homes, and surveying on city-owned property. The proposed turbine would be 260 feet high — 80 feet higher than Hull Turbine II — and cost $4.2 million. According to mayor Driscoll, the feasibility studies showed that the power generated by the turbine would be enough to cut the city’s $1.5 million electric budget in half.
“Under the Green Communities Act, cities that obtain power from renewable sources can sell that power to the grid, and we could use that money for other things,” Driscoll said. “We might put that money back into improvements on Winter Island, or use it to stabilize property taxes.”
For Salem to construct a turbine, the City Council would have to approve a bond for the turbine’s cost. Some councilors and candidates for at-large councilor also attended the site visit.
“I’m extremely supportive of the public process, and I really respect that the residents here have taken hours out of their busy schedules to come and educate themselves on this important issue,” said Darek Barcikowski, who is running for at-large councilor. “I am concerned about the impact of the turbine on Winter Island’s master plan, but if further debate and study determines that this is the right location for the turbine, I’d support it.”
Some of those who attended the site visit were opposed to placing the turbine on Winter Island, which, if constructed, would be the first instance in the nation of a wind turbine on a public park. When citizens of Hull were considering locations for the construction of Hull Turbine II, two of the locations they ultimately decided against were in parks.
“I live right across the river in Marblehead, and I hope that they continue to look at the location,” said Janice Daue Walker, a volunteer with the group SalemWind.org, which opposes the turbine being placed at Winter Island. “I’m certainly not opposed to wind power per se, and today the turbine didn’t sound loud to me. But it might be different for those who have to live near it 24/7.”
Beverly Strauss, a resident of Chestnut Street, said she came on the trip with concerns about the turbine.
“I thought it would be very loud, but it wasn’t,” Strauss said. “I liked the answers I heard to all the questions. If my ward councilor asked me what I thought of the turbine, I’d tell him I support it.”