Sunday, August 21, 2011

A mighty wind

So there's been a massive controversy here in Salem about a proposal to put a single wind turbine up at Winter Island. It would be a little less than half a mile from the nearest houses (there's a few houses on Winter Island Road), near the shoreline by the Harbormaster's office. It's big (to make power usable you have to be big), and I'm a little skeptical as to how much power it will actually generate, but I'm interested.

The first couple of public meetings that have discussed it created a massive fuss - folks down at the Willows were talking about how you'd have to block off massive portions of the park to maintain a "Fall Zone", how ice would be flung from it like shrapnel, and how a "giant machine" could't help but cause health and enjoyment issues for everyone. Other people complained about vibrations, sound, shadow flicker, and everything they could throw at it. Marbleheaders showed up to complain about the views (except for the Healthlink folks, who love it because it doesn't burn coal).

Now, I'm naturally a cynic - but on the flip side of that I tend to trust technology given that I'm an engineer by trade. So I started doing some of my own research by looking at actual peer-reviewed data. Sure, there have been issues with early-generation wind turbines. Newer (as in the last decade or so) technology turbines run slower and are quieter than the older-generation models that have justified complaints. I'm still going to go listen to one, though.

The biggest thing I was worried about was the potential to close off a large portion of Winter Island. If we had to lose a lot of parkland to support this, I'd be firmly against it. For this, I turned to Google Earth as my friend. So first, I looked at Hull:

Link to Hull Turbine

As you may notice, it's not exactly sealed off. It's a few feet past the outfield fence at the high school. This was Hull's first turbine.

Hull Wind #2 is in a more conventional location - and old landfill:

Link to Hull #2

No special access restrictions appear to be in place there, either, other than it being a place that folks aren't exactly going to for fun.

You can find other sites worth looking at through a DOE site that I found, but the bottom line I see here is that for the most part, wind projects nowadays integrate fairly well with their surroundings. My concerns at this point are based on costs rather than safety. And unless I see compelling data otherwise (from either a cost or a safety perspective), I'd support a turbine at Winter Island.

Though I'd prefer to see a bunch of them out in the ocean by the Miseries.