Monday, February 18, 2008

Nobska Point Wind

Yesterday I called George Woodwell and we spent some time walking around looking at potential sites for a wind turbine. The Nobska Point area is one of the prime Class 6 wind sites in Massachusetts. Wind comes over a vast expanse of ocean right on to Nobska Point. I have had my eye for years on getting a turbine placed on the lighthouse property, and arranged for an introduction to the lighthouse keeper, but everyone agrees that people's visual sensibilities will prevent any such wind turbine placement. I keep pointing out that the radio tower next to the lighthouse is vastly uglier than a wind turbine, or almost anything else for that matter. People did not complain about that ... or maybe it just went in so many years ago that people did not have a chance to complain.

There are lots of sites in the area for 2 kW turbines. Not so many for 100kW turbines ... which is the size we would like to get in place for the neighborhood. Let's start close to home. George and I are both prepared to site a turbine in our back yards, which are contiguous but for a road between them. The road is owned by a third party, so in the best of circumstances, we all must reach an agreement to proceed, and then get the town bylaws changed so that we can agree to allow a fall zone to extend over our property lines. We looked at my backyard, and the turbine would be too close to my house. It is one thing to place a 2 kW turbine with its skinny pole within falling distance of a house. Quite another to place a 100kW turbine there with its climb-through structure that rises at least 100 feet and a payload weight well in excess of a ton. Looking at George's back yard, well, it is shielded from the wind by my house.

Walking over to the neighbors who have homes on the ocean, the situation changes. One neighbor with arguably the best site looks in one direction all the way to Martha's Vineyard, and in another direction all the way to Long Island (if one could see that far). They would not even need a very large tower. The best location would be on the rocky beach on the side of the house from which trees block the view. George and I agreed that the owners would never place a turbine in their line of site to the Vineyard.

I really do not have to go any further to point out the pattern. In so-called desirable locations on the coast (or in fact anywhere), there is typically already a heavy population density. It is difficult to find a turbine placement that is safe. Even if a turbine whispers (and that is about all the industrial scale turbines do) it could be disruptive to sensitive people's sleep during quiet nights if it is literally located in a small back yard. Further, the locations that are otherwise acceptable often compromise precious viewsheds. In other words, it is one thing to have a large turbine out there in the water at a distance of a half mile or more, and quite another thing to have it 100 yards away.

I have seen this in many situations. As full awareness of the energy and environment situation grows, I recognize that there will be wind turbines put into lots of places that, today, people would not think of placing them. The question is how we get from here to a moderated version of there.

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