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Proposed wind farm draws few foes in Hull

Town-owned utility generates praise

Email|Print| Text size + By Peter J. Howe
Globe Staff / January 17, 2008

Sometime next year, Hull could become the first community in Massachusetts to get all its electricity from wind power.

After years of study, Hull officials are now seeking approval of state environmental regulators to install four wind turbines, each about 430 feet high, in ocean waters about a mile and a half east of Nantasket Beach.

Ian A. Bowles, the state secretary of energy and environmental affairs and a wind-power advocate, could approve the project as soon as Feb. 6 or order further environmental studies.

A popular 19th century summer resort that today has more than 11,000 year-round residents, Hull already gets about 12 percent of its electricity from two land-based wind turbines. One is on Pemberton Point near the high school. A second is at the site of a former town landfill near the Hingham line. The four offshore wind turbines would produce close to 15 megawatts of electricity, enough to cover the balance of the town's demand.

The offshore wind farm, in an area called Harding Ledge, is even closer to the town than any of the 140 similarly-sized turbines planned for the Cape Wind power project in Nantucket Sound. But while Cape Wind has generated fierce opposition, as well as support, the Hull project is facing comparatively little local opposition.

Town Manager Philip Lemnios said one key reason is that Hull's 6,100 electric customers get their power from the town-owned Hull Municipal Light Plant, which means that the windmills will be producing electricity they are paying for directly in their homes and businesses. Also, Hull residents have lived with the Pemberton Point turbine for eight years.

"It's our own electricity," Lemnios said. "We work to make sure that kids know when they see a streetlight on that it's being powered by the wind turbine."

The slowly-spinning turbine on Pemberton Point is perched in a dramatic, photogenic locale against the backdrop of Boston Harbor and its islands. It "is a beautiful piece of kinetic sculpture" that even draws tourists to town, Lemnios said.

Some local lobstermen fear that the construction of the four turbines could disrupt what is a fertile and lucrative lobstering grounds from March to December.

"I don't want people to think we're against wind power - we're not - but it's just a question of where and when you install them," said Bill Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association.

Adler said lobstermen were anxious about natural-gas pipelines installed on the harbor floor but energy companies addressed their concerns and make "mitigation payments" to compensate them for lost lobstering time and harvests.

"We just want to get together and talk" with Hull officials about living with the project, Adler said. It would occupy about 12,000 square feet of ocean floor during construction, less than a third of an acre, and 907 square feet permanently for the foundations of the turbines. Lemnios said the question of Hull paying lobstermen to defuse opposition has not been raised or discussed.

Aside from the Hull project and Cape Wind, the only other offshore wind farm now proposed in Massachusetts is Boston construction mogul Jay Cashman's plan for 120 windmills off Dartmouth and Mattapoisett in Buzzards Bay.

In the North Shore town of Rowley, which has a town-owned electric utility, the town's Municipal Lighting Plant director. Linda Soucy, said, "We're in the very early stages of looking at" where the town might be able to install wind turbines.

In terms of steady wind, "we're not in as good a position as they are in Hull," Soucy said, and it may be impossible to get regulatory approval to run electric cables through the Plum Island wildlife refuge.

The only town coming close to Hull's potential use of wind-powered electricity is Princeton, in Central Massachusetts. Its town-owned electric utility is currently replacing eight small 1980s wind turbines on Mount Wachusett with two big units that within a year will produce about 40 percent of Princeton's power.

Peter J. Howe can be reached at howe@globe.com.

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