SALEM — Mayor Kim Driscoll's proposal to build a nearly 400-foot wind turbine on Winter Island is laden with symbolism.
It was wind, after all, that fueled the local economy two centuries ago during the Great Age of Sail.
And the proposed site for this turbine is just across the water — a lump-of-coal's throw — from the tall stacks of Salem Harbor Station, a fossil fuel power plant slated to close in three years.
Although the wind project has been investigated for a few years, the first public forum is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 2, at 120 Washington St., the City Hall annex.
A consultant working with the city's Renewable Energy Task Force recently completed a study based on a one-year wind test on Winter Island. Meridian Associates of Beverly concluded that "the site selected for this feasibility study appeared to have sufficient wind to be considered a financially feasible on-site wind generation project."
The average wind speed was almost 14 miles per hour, the "sweet spot" for wind energy studies, according to Paul Marquis, the city's energy and sustainability manager.
This is a complicated proposal with a lot of possible development options. For example, the city could build and finance the project itself, with some of the costs offset by grants, or let a private developer do it and collect annual payments.
Even if the city decided to pay for the $4.2 million turbine, officials estimate it could generate $150,000 to $200,000 after debt service in the first year. Once loans are paid back, the estimates jump to $700,000.
The projected 1.5-megawatt turbine would make money by selling electricity to the regional power grid.
"It could be a pretty significant revenue stream for the city," Marquis said.
Some of that money, the mayor said, could be used to make improvements at Winter Island, a 32-acre recreational facility with several crumbling former U.S. Coast Guard buildings.
The money also could offset the city's annual electric bill, which is well over $1 million.
While this project is expected to get strong support form local environmentalists and backers of clean energy, it is also expected to generate questions and debate due to its location and potential impacts.
The Friends of Winter Island already have met with the mayor.
Under a tentative proposal, the turbine is slated to be built near the harbormaster's office at the water's edge. However, under the state guidelines, it could be built anywhere within a half-mile of the test site.
"Maybe there's a better place for it," Driscoll said.
Size also could be an issue. The turbine eyed by the city is 250 feet tall at its hub, or where the blades attach, and 380 feet at the uppermost tip of the spinning blades.
How tall is 380 feet?
Well, it is more than five times the height of the Hawthorne Hotel, but shorter than the tallest (500 feet) stack at the power plant.
"I fully expect there will be (comments) from some who are very supportive and some who are very concerned," Driscoll said, "and that's one of the reasons we're having the public forum."