Descending into Boston’s Logan Airport last August, I noticed an unexpected element among the rocky islands and weathered colonials. At the end of a narrow neck of land just feet from seaside homes was a massive, commercial-sized wind turbine turning lazily in the wind.
After moving to Boston, wind power seemed everywhere. Setting up the utilities at our new apartment, my girlfriend and I opted for plan that would power our computers and toaster with 100% wind energy at only a slightly higher rate. (The electricity is produced by a New York wind farm so large it featured prominently in a New York Times story about the challenges of wind power transmissions.) On the way to a meeting, I passed a large mill installed alongside I-93 near downtown Boston. At a community meeting, attendees from coastal communities discussed pending proposals in their towns.
I was already familiar with the controversy surrounding a major wind farm proposed off Cape Cod, notoriously delayed by wealthy property owners. A recent story in the Boston Globe described quite a different environment for a farm a bit farther south along the coast. Thanks to astronomical power prices caused by the high cost of diesel for the island generator, the residents of Rhode Island’s Block Island were considering an offshore farm.
Did I unwittingly land in some sort of New England wind paradise? Not exactly. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the few turbines already mentioned unfortunately comprised half of the state’s wind power generation capability. With a total generating power of just 5.32 megawatts, among the states Massachusetts ranks 31st, far behind wind behemoths like California (5,604 MW), Texas (3,162 MW) or Iowa (1,375 MW). Although experiencing rapid growth in the past decade, wind-generated energy comprises only a small portion of energy consumed.
The turbines visible from flights into Logan are known as Hull I and II, named after the small community that owns them. Their story began with a small turbine installed during the 1980s. After it blew down in a storm in 1997, the community-owned power utility decided to install a larger turbine. Success beget success, and in 2006 the Vestas-manufactured Hull II began operations. Local boosters eagerly track the power production online and plans are underway for yet more turbines.
The turbine alongside I-93 was installed at the Dorchester headquarters of a the IBEW 103 union, as a demonstration project demonstrating their commitment to wind power. According to the American Wind Energy Association, in addition to these two others sit atop mountains, and the last is owned by the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, all installed since 2001.
Although Massachusetts has a long way to go before wind would contribute a significant portion of all power generation, there has been interest in renewable energy. Some of the 600 programs in renewable energy funded by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative are shown here in a regional map created by my employer, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council:
The local interest in commercial-scale wind power production is no accident. Thanks to geography, the state’s coast enjoys some of the best wind conditions in the country.
Although there’s all kinds of new websites to investigate wind power potential, the map above from a government report clearly illustrates the issue. When it comes to wind power, the west is king. But unlike the flatlands of the Midwest and South, the New England seacoast and mountain peaks are blessed with high “wind power density,” meaning more proposals are sure to come.