For hundreds of years, wind pushed Gloucester’s fishing vessels across oceans, helping to establish its rocky coast as the country’s more storied fishing harbor.
Now, two private companies, Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates and Equity Industrial Partners, are turning to wind turbines to generate power, a move that will vault Gloucester to the top of renewable energy communities north of Boston.
By mid-December, three wind turbines are expected to be constructed and operating at Blackburn Industrial Park. Varian began transporting sections of a 2.5-megawatt wind turbine last week, which is scheduled to be erected at the semiconductor company’s site in the coming weeks. The $8 million turbine, which will stretch 492 feet from the base to the top of the rotor, will be one of the largest in the Northeast, and will generate about one-third of the electricity the company uses.
“Environmentally, it’s huge for the region,” said Rick Johnson, a Varian spokesman. Johnson said the turbine would improve regional air quality by reducing about 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide, another ton of nitrous oxide, and other particulates that are released annually when fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity.
There has been little opposition to the projects by residents or environmentalists. Scituate’s Board of Health recently agreed to investigate complaints about noise associated with the town’s 400-foot wind turbine and may consider turning it off at night.
For a short period last week, there was gridlock on Gloucester’s downtown streets, as sections of Varian’s tower were taken from a barge, placed on trucks, and transported to the industrial park near Blackburn Circle below the Babson Reservoir. This week, much of the tower will be erected, and on Oct. 31, the three-blade rotor – 328 feet in diameter – will be placed on top of the tower.
About 30 percent of the $8 million project will be subsidized by the federal government through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Johnson said the company will save about $1 million a year in energy costs by having its own wind turbine.
Varian’s project, which was permitted five years ago, pushed the city to consider building its own wind turbine at the industrial park. After Mayor Carolyn Kirk took office in 2008, she appointed a Clean Energy Commission, which recommended the industrial park site. That site, according to years of data accumulated by Varian testing, proved to be one of the optimal places in northern Massachusetts to construct a wind turbine. The average wind speed is more than 15 miles per hour, and the land is in a wooded district, close to Route 128 and away from city neighborhoods.
That prompted the city to enter into a 25-year power agreement with Equity Industrial Partners, which owns the Gloucester Engineering property at the industrial park. Under the agreement, Equity Industrial will build two, 2-megawatt wind turbines at the park, which will provide all of the city’s municipal electricity beginning in December. The $12 million turbines will stretch about 400 feet from the base to the tip of the blade, and will be visible from most parts of the city.
Kirk said the agreement is a financial windfall for the city, which is expected to save at least $11 million in electricity bills over the next 25 years, enough money, she said, to build a new joint public safety building.
“I don’t think any another city in the area can claim that they are 100 percent powered by renewable energy for their municipal needs,” said Kirk.
Kirk said the 4 megawatts of power generated locally would bring electricity to the city’s seven schools; three water treatment plants; City Hall, police, and fire departments; and its sewer treatment plant.
As workers continue to erect the tower at Varian, the city’s harbor also will be busy this week. A barge is expected to make several deliveries of tower equipment for the Equity Industrial turbines, which will be brought to the site by truck. The blades will be delivered by truck from Pennsylvania, where they were constructed. Rich Kleiman, a wind turbine consultant for Equity Industrial, said the turbines would be up and running by mid-December.
“It’s one of the best land-based wind sites in the Commonwealth. You don’t get much windier sites in Massachusetts unless you go offshore,” said Kleiman.
In the meantime, Kirk is planning a blade-signing event on Nov. 16 where residents can write their names on one of the six blades that will help bring power to the city.