GLOUCESTER — For centuries, wind has played a central role in Gloucester’s economy, pushing fishing vessels across oceans, and helping to make the port the most storied fishing village in the country.
These days, the city and private developers are looking to the wind to save money and to cut down on burning fossil fuel. Gloucester has become the first community in the North region with three turbines, taking advantage of an average daily wind speed of nearly 16 miles per hour.
“It’s a statement about choosing our own destiny and becoming independent from oil,” said Mayor Carolyn Kirk. “We’re a progressive community that has always relied on the wind. This is a natural fit for Gloucester.”
Like burnished, inanimate giants, the three turbines and blades each stretch over 400 feet into the air. They’re the latest to be hoisted into the sky by developers and municipalities that are looking for alternative energy. In Ipswich, a second turbine is being built and should be running by the end of the year, with the pair set to provide 7 percent of the town’s power. In Medford, a small turbine helps power a middle school and saves the city $25,000 annually. The Lynn Water and Sewer Commission is erecting a 254-foot-high turbine along the Lynnway, a $1.8 million investment that will save the city as much as $5 million over the next 20 years.
Two public-private turbines in Gloucester went into service last Monday when National Grid issued authorization to interconnect with its system, according to Richard E. Kleiman, a wind power consultant for Gloucester Engineering, the city’s partner in the project. Gloucester is now the only city in the state producing the equivalent of its municipal electric load/use with wind turbines, Kleiman said.
The deal allows the city to power all of its buildings — from City Hall to its high school — at a subsidized rate, saving almost $500,000 a year for the next quarter-century.
In Gloucester, the three turbines were built by businesses. One is owned by Applied Materials, the parent company of Varian Semiconductor. Varian’s 2.5-megawatt, 492-foot-high turbine is the tallest in Massachusetts, and is expected to provide about one-third of the company’s power since it began operating last month. About 30 percent of the turbine’s $8 millioncost will be subsidized by a federal program, and will allow the company to save about $1 million in power costs a year.
“We saw a potential for great savings for the company and Gloucester is a great wind resource,” said Varian spokesman Rick Johnson.
Five years ago, the city approved the Varian wind turbine plan, but the slowdown in the economy put the project on hold. During that time, Gloucester reviewed Varian’s wind studies and began to consider building its own turbines. The city took began negotiations with a private developer who proposed building two turbines and selling all of the power generated by the wind to the city.
Last year, the city signed a 25-year electrical purchase plan with Equity Industrial Partners. The plan called for Equity to build two 2-megawatt, $12 million turbines at Gloucester Engineering, near the Varian site in the Blackburn Industrial Park.
Across the region, not everyone has embraced the idea of building large turbines in communities. Most opponents complain about shadow flicker, infrasound, and vibrations. In Salem, a proposed turbine stalled after a neighborhood group opposed its construction near Salem Willows. In a 2012 state study prepared for the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health, the report concluded that there was insufficient evidence that noise from wind turbines directly “caused health problems or disease.”
Kirk and other city officials believe that locating the turbines in an industrial park – away from neighborhoods, and near Route 128 — helped mitigate opposition. To date, there’s been no opposition to the turbines. Paul McGeary, the city councilor who represents the neighborhood nearest to the turbines, said it’s because they stand about 1,000 feet away from the nearest homes on Harrison Avenue.
“What really helped us was location, location, location. It’s properly sited,” said McGeary, who helped organize public meetings about the turbines in the neighborhood over the last year.
To date, he has received only one complaint, from a resident who said the turbines were interfering with his satellite television reception.
Carl Stratton, who lives in the neighborhood, said he had been nervous about shadow flicker but is taking a wait-and-see attitude. In November at the Gloucester Engineering site, he was one of more than 2,000 people who signed the blades that now spin 400feet in the air. “I’m definitely in favor of alternative energies,” he said. Continued...