LYNN — Nearly five years after the 254-foot-tall wind turbine was built on the Lynnway, whether the electricity generating device has been a success depends on who you ask.
“The Lynn Water and Sewer Commission has always looked for innovative ways to reduce electricity both for cost and emission,” said Robert Tina, the city’s water treatment plant operations director. “Over the years, we’ve saved a significant amount of electricity through innovative technology.”
The wind turbine, the most noticeable landmark on the city’s waterfront, which began turning in early 2014, cost about $1.8 million to construct — the price tag was reduced to about $700,000 after grants from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Environmental Protection. The five-member Lynn Water and Sewer Board of Commissioners voted unanimously for the project.
The turbine’s three, 75-foot-long blades are mounted to the generator on top of the 180-foot steel turbine tower. Wind turns the blades and the generator sends electricity to a transformer mounted next to the tower’s base.
According to a project timeline provided by Tina, the conceptual idea for a wind turbine was formulated in 2004. He said the city began by looking at wind and solar energy and found that solar was not feasible because the city doesn’t have the land area to put the panels up. He said wind was then decided on, which led to the request to put in a wind turbine.
Tina said grant-funded studies were done to determine if there was enough wind to make the project feasible. The city worked with the University of Massachusetts which included having a wind anemometer on site.
“It’s absolutely been successful,” Tina said. “We are saving electricity by producing, by generating our own, and it’s a huge benefit on the emission side. It’s a cost benefit to the Lynn Water and Sewer Commission.”
Another side note, Tina said, is in the several years since its installation, the city has given many tours of the wind turbine, mostly for Lynn schools, and students all write their names on the inside of the wall of the turbine.
Tina said the city has produced 2,781,200 kilowatt hours of clean energy since Jan. 2014, which is enough to power 9,038 homes, all while offsetting more than 3,733,344 pounds of harmful CO2 emissions.
But Daniel O’Neill, the Water and Sewer Commission’s executive director, said he wasn’t really an advocate for the turbine and that rather than seeing expected cost savings, the city basically breaks even.
“It is reducing the carbon footprint and we are producing our own electricity, but it’s not really a money maker,” O’Neill said. “It was intended to produce electricity to offset some of the treatment facility costs, but was it a good business decision? I don’t know … I’m all for reducing the carbon footprint, but the numbers didn’t really play out.”
The concept of the project was the turbine blades would convert waterfront winds averaging 12 miles an hour into energy to reduce the commission’s electricity bill to operate the 40-acre sewage treatment plant by as much as a third and eliminate 2,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.
O’Neill said the annual expenses are about $110,000 to $120,000, which factors in yearly costs of about $56,000 in debt service over 20 years, $39,000 in maintenance and approximately $23,000 in insurance.
The projected electrical generation is 967,700 kilowatt hours annually, which is enough to power 300 to 500 homes. The annual projected electrical savings is $90,000 to $100,000, according to statistics provided by Tina.
Ward 1 City Councilor Wayne Lozzi, a former member of the Water & Sewer board who supported the wind turbine project, said it runs well and saves money.
“These turbines are not made to make money the next week or the next year,” Lozzi said. “It’s an investment in our environment. The public gets benefits other than financial. When it’s paid off, it will be a money maker. But even if we break even now, it will pay for itself over time.”
James Cowdell, Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn executive director, said the wind turbine doesn’t have an impact on waterfront development in the area.
“It’s next to the water and sewer treatment plant,” Cowdell said. “It’s on their property. The places that are going to be developed, it won’t have a positive or a negative impact.”