Posted by: coastlinesproject | August 20, 2014

Ipswich, Wind Turbines

The Wind Turbines

Ipswich, Massachusetts

August 15, 2014


When I go to start my car, switch on my lights, or turn up the thermostat I expect something to happen. But, like most New Englanders, I have no idea where all that oil, gas and electricity comes from. I’m fearful of nuclear energy, don’t like carbon dioxide, ditto for dams, fracking and oil spills.


But we have very few sources of energy in New England; so if Pennsylvania, Texas or the Middle East wants to squander their valuable resources and ship cheap fuel our way, who am I to complain? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, as they say.


We also don’t have any derricks or drill ships to remind us where our fuel comes from; just those late night trucks that sneak into town like Santa Claus to fill up our local gas stations.


But things are starting to change. A few neighbors have installed solar panels and when I look out my back window I can see the blades of two wind turbines rotating slowly in the early morning wind.


In mid-August I decided to walk down to Smith Island to take a closer look. The marsh was in all its late summer glory. Last night’s high course tide had bent the weak stems of the salt hay marsh grass so now it lay in huge cowlicks. I felt I was walking on the back of a giant moose. It would continue to grow that way well into autumn.


The full moon tide also drowned the last of the greenhead flies. Unfortunately they had already laid their eggs. They live all year as inch-long larvae that ooze through the marsh mud until they encounter prey. Then they shoot a spiny proboscis into their hapless victim that writhes around in agony for several minutes as its insides are slowly sucked out through the proboscis. The only good thing about these encounters is that the greenheads usually dispatch one of their own relatives.


There is nothing so pleasing to an Ipswichite than to slap and kill a greenhead fly. I say slap and kill because the tough old Tabanids have a disconcerting habit of coming to, and flying away a few seconds after they have been slapped. We have long discussions about technique. Is it better to slap and roll, slap and squash, simply bury them in the sand or better yet drown them in the ocean? I used to bring their little corpses home from the beach to feed our pet turtle.


Of course none of these techniques will make the slightest dent in the future population of the flies. Days before we get around to giving that satisfactory slap, the perpetrator has already laid her eggs from that protein she sucked out of her larval kin. Our blood was just the aperitif to her plat des jours. But it is still pleasing to slap this notoriously slow but vicious denizen of the marsh.


I can’t help thinking about the greenheads as I walk across the causeway to reach Smith Island. The fieldstone causeway was built around 1740 so that the farmhands who lived in the attic of our house could cut the marsh hay without having their horses drown in the marsh.


Building the causeway was backbreaking work. The farmers had to remove heavy stones from the fields, and then transport them to the marsh in oxen-drawn carts. Can you imagine hauling tons of boulders in 90-degree heat, surrounded by clouds of deerflies, greenheads and mosquitoes?



When the causeway was completed it stood more than two feet above the marsh, but now the marsh has grown above the causeway. That’s because the sea level has risen two and a half feet since 1750. It is a reminder of why these wind turbines are so important. They will not be adding to our atmosphere’s surfeit of heat-trapping carbon dioxide.


I’m particularly proud of Ipswich for building its two wind turbines. They now supply 3 percent of the town’s total energy and 60 percent of the energy used by our local schools. Unlike many towns our turbines went through the siting process with little fanfare. No residents complained that the turbines would make too much noise, disrupt their television signal or make them ill, because nobody lived very close to the marshy site in the first place.


Perhaps Ipswich should have taken a hint from the town of Hull. She built a wind turbine right beside her high school’s football field. The turbine has been credited with scoring several wins for the home team. Their quarterbacks knew to wait until they caught a member of the line looking up at the swirling blades. Then they would snap the ball. It is said Bill Belichick has been seen videotaping their games.


I’m less proud of the good people on the south shore of Cape Cod. They have blocked the construction of our country’s first offshore wind farm for close to 20 years. Their main concern was that the turbines would ruin their oceanfront view, even though the turbines would look less than an inch tall when viewed from the water’s edge. It was not lost on the public that many of the same towns that opposed the turbines were not above building replicas of old windmills as magnets to attract summer tourists.


The town of Ipswich and our local high school jointly funded the first turbine. The second was built by a private company but it sells all its electricity to the town. Together the two turbines supply about 7% of the town’s electricity, another 3% comes from the town’s part ownership of 10 turbines in the Berkshire Hills. We are well on our way to reaching our goal of getting 20% of our electrical needs from renewable sources by 2020. We may even surpass it.


So Ipswich compares very favorably to Massachusetts that has the best efficiency rating of any state in the country but only gets 9% of its electricity from local renewable resources. The other 65% comes from shipped in natural gas and 12% comes from coal.


How has Ipswich been able to achieve so much? It had several advantages. First it has owned its own municipal power company since 1903. Though the diesel powered power plant only operated 72 hours in 2013, owning it allows the town to be picky about where it buys its electricity from. We now buy electricity from Berkshire Wind, Eagle Creek Hydro and Ipswich Wind as well as from Stony Brook Gas and the Seabrook and Millstone nuclear power plants.


So have there been any problems with the wind turbines? They have already survived two hurricanes, but I understand 6 dead bats were found below the spinning blades of the turbine last summer, circumstantial evidence, but a problem nonetheless. The solution? Town officials turned off the light that was attracting moths and the bats flew off to more productive feeding grounds.




Read more in; Islands in the Storm, Storm Surge; A Coastal Village Battles the Atlantic, Beach Wars; 10,000 Years on a Barrier Beach. See Strawberry Hill, UPNE, and Schiffer book tabs at the top of this page.










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