Mass. residents using B.I. Wind Farm as model

For proposed offshore wind farm project
Thu, 09/12/2019 - 6:45pm
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The Block Island Wind Farm seems to have piqued the curiosity of other communities, which are eager to learn how the wind turbines were installed, and how the island made the conversion to offshore wind energy.

One of those communities is Hull, Massachusetts, a small seaside town situated on a peninsula near Boston. The town, similar in size to Block Island, and located at the southern edge of Boston Harbor, is looking at the wind farm as a model for potentially installing its own offshore wind farm.

Hull’s similarity to Block Island is compelling: the Municipal Light Company has provided it with grid-fed electricity since 1894. It receives about 10 to 12 percent of its energy from two small land turbines. The community relies on a ferry from Hull to several destinations, including Boston’s Logan Airport, Long Wharf North, and the Town of Hingham.

Block Island has been receiving its electricity from the Block Island Power Company since 1924. The company departed from its diesel generators on May 1, 2017, when it began receiving offshore wind energy.

Three residents from Hull visited Block Island on Sept. 3 on a fact-finding mission to get a sense of, and close-up look at, the wind farm.

Judeth Van Hamm, Connie Gorfinkle and Jacob Vaillancourt have teamed up to promote and pursue Hull’s 100 percent renewable energy project. The trio saw turbine one operating to produce enough energy, three to four of its six-megawatt capacity, to power the entire island; a fact that pleasantly surprised the group. 

“I want it. Let’s build it,” said Van Hamm, smiling and gazing at the wind farm. Van Hamm, who was visiting Block Island for the first time, chairs Hull’s Clean Energy Task Force, an advisory board formed unanimously by the town’s selectmen on April 18, 2019. The goal, she said, is for Hull to be supplied with “one hundred percent clean energy by 2030.”

Van Hamm said the projected impact on sea level rise to Hull is a “major motivation” for the town’s renewables project. She said projections call for the sea level to rise 10 feet by 2065, leaving half the town under water. 

“We need a wind farm,” said Gorfinkle. “We’ve got to get away from fossil fuel. We need renewable energy..”

Gorfinkle co-chairs with Van Hamm on 350 Mass South Shore, a multi-town sustainable advocacy group formed in Hull in 2004. She has visited Block Island many times, and calls it, “the loveliest of all the islands.”

Vaillancourt, a renewable energy businessman who flew the group to the island in his Diamond DA40 airplane, is assisting the others with their endeavors for bringing renewable resources to Hull.

“We figured: this is a community within a reasonable distance from us, so let’s go see it,” he said, peering at the wind farm’s turbines from the Southeast Lighthouse bluffs. “They’re so efficient — dramatically so. I think it’s the future.” Vaillancourt said the group‘s visit was designed to see “if there is a lesson we can learn” from installation of the wind farm. “Maybe we can do it better.”

Vaillancourt said the renewable energy sector has become his “life’s work. I want to make the world a better place.” He is the Chief Operations Officer for Waste Hub (www.waste-hub.com), a company that finds ways to best dispose of, and monetize, a company’s waste material. 

“Our goal in Hull is to build an offshore wind farm,” he said.

The trio said their aim is to install two 12-megawatt General Electric brand wind turbines about one to two miles off the coast of Hull in town waters on Massachusetts Bay.

Van Hamm said the goal is to have a private investor fund installation of the turbines, and then pay off the investor and own the turbines via the Municipal Light Company, which would manage the day-to-day operations.  

“If the (Municipal Light Company) owns the wind farm turbines then we will be making our own electricity,” she said, noting that the reason the “Block Island Wind Farm is so important is to educate us about converting from heating with oil and gas to electricity.” She added: “We’re using air source heat pumps;” a renewable type of heating system. “They look like an air conditioner.”

“The town is in the process of conducting a rate study,” said Van Hamm. She also said Hull has funding to pursue an offshore wind farm project, which will include hiring consultants. “This year we’re going to spend collecting data.”

The group’s secondary objective, which they said should help garner community support, is to install, or site, the 850-foot tall turbines in Logan Airport’s flight path, which would compel the Federal Aviation Administration to reroute its approach around Hull’s airspace. 

“The (flight path) is right over Hull,” said Vaillancourt. The group said it is a bone of contention for the community, and something they’ve been trying to address.

“The turbines would be sited in town water, and the town would be in charge of regulating them,” said Van Hamm. 

Vaillancourt said that although the group is campaigning for support of the project, “people show up at Judeth’s meetings in the dead of winter. It’s 30 or so people,” he said. “Look at all the people who care” about the community.