Hull MA — Wind Power Innovator

One of Hull's Wind Turbines

Back when I was on the Hull Pirates football team, practices ended with sprints. Look up, the coaches exhorted us, there’s no air if you’ve got your head down. I’d look up and perched at the end of the Gut was a windmill. I didn’t realize how novel it was at the time. But it turns out the little out-of-the-way peninsula town where I grew up is finally a leader in something, and something important. Hull, which now has two windmills, is a national leader in wind power. That’s a view now being vindicated by the Wall Street Journal.

“A recent Energy Department report said wind power could supply 20% of the country’s energy needs by 2030. Community leaders in this blue-collar town of 11,000 think they might be able to top that by building an offshore wind farm that would supply all of their town’s power…But with energy prices soaring and climate concerns on the rise, the days of such stalemates may be numbered. Although Hull’s offshore project still faces hurdles, the town’s embrace of wind power reflects how local control and tangible economic benefit can diffuse such tensions and lead to broad acceptance of alternative energy sources.”

And more: “Since 2001, commuters on the ferry into town from nearby Boston have been greeted by the 165-foot-high wind turbine that Hull built on the shoreline next to its high school. In 2006, with little opposition, Hull erected an even bigger wind turbine on a hill overlooking one of the main roads into town. Connected to the Hull municipal power plant, the two existing turbines now provide about 13% of Hull’s power needs and have kept local electric bills about a third below those of most surrounding communities…A faded tourist town still known for its long, wave-swept beach, Hull sits on a peninsula that juts out into Boston Harbor like a crooked finger. Local residents have been taking advantage of wind power since at least the early 1800s, when windmills were used to make salt from sea water. In 1985, the town erected a small windmill near its high school to help generate electricity for the building. It saved the town an estimated $70,000 in energy bills over its lifetime, but was destroyed in a 1997 storm.

Soon after, a group of local citizens and teachers began lobbying town leaders to put up a new windmill at the site, with high-school physics students doing some of the planning. Managers at the town’s power plant, which is overseen by an elected board, bought into the idea and the group got advice from a renewable-energy laboratory at the University of Massachusetts.

The wind-power group held multiple public hearings and sent detailed updates out with town electric bills. From the start, the emphasis was on the direct economic benefits the turbine would provide for local residents.

At the time, the Hull power plant, with no generating capacity of its own, was buying all of its electricity from elsewhere, paying about eight cents per kilowatt hour. Planners estimated the turbine could produce it for about three cents per kilowatt hour, shaving about $185,000 a year off local utility bills and paying for operation of the town’s street lights.

At public meetings, some citizens complained that the turbine would ruin the skyline and be noisy. But because local residents controlled the decision-making, opposition was minimal, says Susan Ovans, publisher of the Hull Times, a local weekly. ‘There was a sense that, if you had concerns, you could just go find your neighbor and ask him or her about it,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t some faceless developer coming in.’ ”

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