MVC considers Ice Arena wind turbine plan
With goals to cut increasingly high utility costs and raise revenues, the Martha's Vineyard Arena (MVA) proposed plans for a 165-foot tall wind turbine that also will serve as a wireless communications tower at a public hearing before the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) on August 14.
Following a presentation about the project from the MVA leadership and public testimony, the commissioners raised questions about the tower's unique dual-purpose function and its visual impact, noise from the wind turbine, and effects from the wireless communications equipment. In light of their requests for additional information, they continued the hearing to Sept. 4 at 7:45 pm.
MVA, the Island's only ice rink, is located on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, across from the regional high school. The arena, which offers year-round skating, is the Island's third largest energy consumer, after schools and grocery stores. MVA is owned by a nonprofit community organization.
Despite taking energy-conservation measures and instituting energy recovery systems over the past 10 years, MVA President Jevon Rego said the arena's budget has been hard hit by soaring utility costs.
Based on last year's budget and predicted rate increases, Mr. Rego estimates utility costs will amount to about $200,000 of the arena's $350,000 operating budget this year, of which $115,000 will be spent on electricity.
"Viable and self-sustaining are two important words in the arena's mission statement," said Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack, a member of the MVA's board of directors. "If the proposal for a wind turbine and cell tower is allowed to go forward, we will not only decrease the cost of electricity for the arena, but we'll also create a new source of revenue for the arena."
Gary Harcourt of Great Wind Rock, an Island-based small wind energy consulting and installation business, is the co-applicant with Mr. Rego for the Martha's Vineyard Commission permit. Based on data from verified Island wind studies and a feasibility study contracted by the MVA, the two applicants say they are fairly confident a wind turbine could offset about 20 percent of the ice arena's energy costs.
Photo Courtesy of Gary Harcourt
A combination deal
Mr. Rego said that in 2006 the MVA board began exploring the idea of locating a cell phone tower on the arena property as a revenue source with Maxton Technology, a wireless telecommunication services provider headquartered in South Easton. Following discussions with the planning board and subsequent public hearings, Oak Bluffs voters approved the addition of the ice arena property to the town's wireless overlay district at the 2007 annual town meeting.
Last December, Mr. Rego said the MVA was on the verge of going with the cell phone tower when Mr. Harcourt approached the board with the wind turbine proposal. After the board shifted their focus in favor of the wind turbine, Maxton Technology came up with a proposal to put cell phone equipment on the tower.
Although agreements between the wind turbine manufacturer, Maxton Technology and the MVA are not totally in place, Mr. Rego said part of the funding for the wind turbine project depends on the wireless communications component.
Jim Albiani of Maxton Technology said he believed a minimum of two cell phone carriers would make use of the tower, which Mr. Rego said would produce enough revenue to make it worthwhile.
"So you cut a deal with a cell tower company so they would put up some of the money?" Chilmark commissioner Douglas Sederholm asked Mr. Rego.
"We knew the tower would have to be over-engineered for the extra load, so the cell phone company would have to pick up that cost," Mr. Rego explained.
"You want approval for a strengthened tower? Then we'll want photos and specs," Edgartown commissioner Christina Brown told him.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission's application for a permit from the MVA, however, includes only the wind turbine tower. Mr. Harcourt said discussion at the MVC hearing about the addition of wireless communications equipment to the tower was intended to address its possible impact on structural design.
Nuts and bolts
Plans call for constructing a 140-foot tall lattice tower with a 50-kilowatt wind turbine, with blades spanning 50 feet, at the back of the property. Mr. Harcourt said there are not a lot of wind turbine sizes to pick from below the utility level.
"We're thrilled with this design," Mr. Rego said. "It's an old department of energy design purchased by Entegrity Wind Systems, one of the few with a tested track record."
The arena is seeking a Large Onsite Renewables Initiative grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which Mr. Harcourt said would cover about half of the wind turbine's estimated $250,000 cost. He hopes to have a building permit in hand in time to apply for the grant by the deadline at the end of August.
The wind turbine will be sited behind the arena, as far back as possible, which will help minimize visual impact and maximize wind access. Since Oak Bluffs zoning bylaws permit a maximum tower height of 70 feet, the taller tower requires a special permit from the zoning board of appeals, Mr. Harcourt said.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Massachusetts Aeronautical Commission also must approve the tower height. Mr. Harcourt filed an application with the FAA to find out what height will be allowed, and expects to hear back soon.
Tisbury commissioner Peter Cabana asked about fall distances. "We're way beyond that," Mr. Harcourt said, explaining that Oak Bluffs requires a setback equal to the maximum height of the machine, plus 20 feet.
Unlike many Island properties, the ice arena has few residences nearby. It is directly abutted by YMCA, skate park, a Land Bank property, and Oak Bluffs resident home site properties.
In a recent phone call, Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton said the selectmen have no plans right now for the resident home site committee property.
Plans for the new YMCA facility call for creating a shared entranceway for the arena and Y properties. The commissioners asked for a photo illustration of what the front entrance and additional landscaping might look like, even though it is unlikely to alter the visual impact of the 165-foot wind turbine above the existing tree line at 45 feet.
Although Mr. Harcourt showed a power-point illustration of the ice arena with the wind turbine tower superimposed behind it, several commissioners expressed concerns about the aesthetics of adding wireless communications equipment to it.
Oak Bluffs commissioner Richard Toole asked Mr. Harcourt if he had a photo of what the tower would look like with the addition of wireless communications equipment.
"We don't know yet," Mr. Harcourt responded. Mr. Albiani said he would try to provide a Photoshop illustration at the next hearing session.
Tilting at windmills
Currently the Martha's Vineyard Commission checklist for proposals that trigger a development of regional impact (DRI) review does not include windmills. However, because the MVA's wind turbine project is a new proposal on the site of a previously approved DRI, the commission's Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) recommended a public hearing.
Although there are about five wind turbine projects under development across the Island, none have come under the Martha's Vineyard Commission's review - yet. Some of the commissioners' questions at last week's public hearing reflected their unfamiliarity with the new technology.
In discussing possible environmental impacts, Mr. Harcourt said statistical studies show that for every 10,000 birds killed, less than one is killed by a wind turbine. Oak Bluffs commissioner Mimi Davisson asked whether human beings have ever been killed by wind turbines, a concern she said relates to the possibility of the wind turbine falling on adults or children as they enter and exit the ice arena and the future YMCA.
Mr. Harcourt assured her, "These machines have been installed at schools, even in playgrounds, all over the country."
One example exists right across the street, where a 112-foot wind turbine is located behind the regional high school. Superintendent of public schools James Weiss, who was on hand to answer questions about it, said he would ask the high school committee about endorsing the MVA's project at a meeting on Sept. 8. He said it would be hard not to support the wind turbine, since the high school has one.
Regarding issues related to the wind turbine, Mr. Weiss said he had received a few complaints from homeowners in the Deer Run neighborhood, which abuts the high school property, about noise and aesthetics when the wind turbine tower was first erected.
The noise impact from the MVA's proposed wind turbine is difficult to predict, Mr. Harcourt explained. The ice arena's cooling tower already produces 62 to 68 decibels, which provides "white noise" that will help offset any sound coming from the wind turbine. The loudest sound point will be directly downwind at the hub height, he explained - at 140 feet.
Ms. Davisson asked for the applicants to provide tables quantifying decibel levels for sounds such as lawnmowers and tractor-trailers, for example, to provide some measure of comparison.
Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London suggested the commissioners send questions for the applicants to the staff before the next public hearing session.
During the hearing, Edgartown commissioner Jim Athearn disclosed that he is working with Mr. Harcourt to purchase a similar wind turbine for his farm and that he checked with the state Ethics Commission to make sure there is no conflict of interest.