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New England Interview: John MacLeod, Hull Municipal Light Plant

New England Interview: John MacLeod, Hull Municipal Light Plant

Date: 12/31/2006

The shoreline town of Hull, Massachusetts, pioneered the modern community wind movement in New England with the installations of Hull 1, a 660-kW Vestas V-47 (in 2001) and Hull 2, a 1.8-MW Vestas V-80 (in 2006). Hull 2 is the largest wind turbine in New England and the first U.S. installation on a capped landfill. Now, communities throughout the region seek to replicate Hull's success. Not satisfied with only two wind turbines, the town looks to parlay its leadership into offshore wind. We spoke to lifelong Hull resident John MacLeod, who started his career in 1963 as a meter reader for the Hull Municipal Light Plant (HMLP) and "retired" earlier this year as its operations manager. John MacLeod and HMLP were recipients of Wind Powering America's 2006 Wind Power Pioneer Award. In the first days of his retirement, John eagerly accepted the assignment to develop the United States' first offshore wind turbines...just off the coast of his hometown.

Q. What was your role in the development, construction, and operation of the two Hull wind turbines?

A. As operations manager for HMLP, I was the project manager for each of our first two wind turbine installations. I oversaw the pre-development studies, ran the bidding process, and worked with the turbine vendor and construction contractors. In my current consulting role, I track the operations and maintenance of both Hull 1 and Hull 2.

Q. How did Hull 1 come about?

A. The process that led to both turbines really centered on the community. Wind power has a great history in Hull. There was a 40-kW Enertech turbine at the high school in the mid-1980s — this is why the site of Hull 1 is called Windmill Point. The demise of this small turbine in a storm was the impetus for a group of residents to approach HMLP and ask for a new wind power facility. That led to Hull 1.

In 1998, we first started exploring the turbine options that ultimately led to Hull 1. We tried to establish a process that revolved around sharing information with the community. We brought Jim Manwell of the UMASS Renewable Energy Research Laboratory (RERL) on board; it is important to have credible, independent analysis. We did site assessments, photo simulations, economic analyses, and surveys of residents' reactions, and we presented all of them to the community. Everyone got on board. We took the proposed project to a town meeting, and it passed. After that, we put the project out to bid. Vestas won and had our turbine online by December 2001.

Q. What decision-making process led to Hull 2?

A. The people of Hull asked for more. It's almost as simple as that. After watching the first turbine provide economic benefits to the town, both HMLP and ratepayers began to ask if we could do more. The first project was such a success that RERL had already written a "how-to" book about it. The significant question was not "if" but "where."

For the second turbine, we tried to follow the Hull 1 process as closely as possible. Again, we worked with Jim Manwell and RERL and focused on keeping the community informed. We spent countless hours polling community interest in location and sharing the results of our site assessments, photo simulations, and economic analyses. We circulated a newsletter proposing five or six sites for public feedback. We even offered to move Hull 1 and put the new turbine in its place. The landfill, which is where Hull 2 stands, was the favored location. After passing a town meeting vote, the HMLP commissioners solicited bids for foundation design and construction. Our relationship with Vestas helped us secure the necessary turbine and equipment for 2006 installation. Even though we followed the same process as with Hull 1, it was easier the second time around. Our residents had practical experience living with a wind turbine. The people in Hull like wind turbines because we have one. They have practical experience with the noise and avian impacts, and it makes them want more.

We will follow this same process for our offshore project; honest information leads to credibility.

Q. How has community acceptance evolved from Hull 1 to Hull 2 and beyond?

A. Community support is strong. We would never have considered the second turbine if it were not. In 2003, after benefiting from the first turbine, the town decided to expand on its history with wind power. Hull citizens voted to install up to two turbines on land and up to four in the water. We would have done more, but we are a "land poor" town. Some towns have NIMBY (not in my backyard) issues. In Hull, we have the opposite problem. Since it has been 3 years since the town approved the offshore wind turbines, the citizens are concerned that the project has not materialized yet. They want to know why their wind turbines are not up yet. I tell them our goal is to have steel in the water within 2 years.

Q. Global supply has not kept up with demand for wind turbines in the past 2 years. How did you procure the Hull 1 and Hull 2 machines, and do you think you could do it again today given changes in the turbine market?

A. Reproducing our turbine purchases in today's market would be difficult. We procured the first two machines through a competitive bidding process. We were fortunate that Vestas offered compelling bids. After Hull 1, the town had a favorable track record, which made turbine vendors more interested in working with us. Now that we are actively discussing what could be the United States' first offshore wind energy project, turbine vendors are even more willing to work with us. There is a clear value in being first. We have been told that four turbines could be delivered in the first quarter of 2008 if we are ready for them.

Despite the turbine supply market, I think we would be able to do the first two projects again. With power price increases and high REC prices, I think Hull would make the same decision again to install the turbines. The economic benefits of Hull 1 are relatively small, but with the addition of Hull 2, the town now meets about 13% of its annual usage with the turbines.

Q. What are Hull's plans for further wind development?

A. For the past 3 years, the town has discussed the potential for up to four offshore turbines. The proposed offshore project will produce up to 100% of Hull's needs. We hope this will help us continue to maintain stable rates. The Town of Hull hasn't had a rate increase since 1996. At the moment, we are spending a lot of time on community outreach — the same process used for Hull 1 and Hull  2 — and providing information to ratepayers and political bodies to get feedback and build support. One of the most important items to involve the community in is site selection. This discussion is currently focused on Harding's Ledge, about 2 miles off Hull's main beach. Interestingly, Harding's Ledge is currently a hazard to navigation (shallow enough to be exposed at low tide), so the Coast Guard would value the turbines there as a navigational aid. We think this location, and Hull's limited capacity distribution system, could accommodate up to four turbines. They would each be either 3 or 3.6 MW, putting the project total in the 12- to 14.4-MW range. We are targeting a 2008 installation, and we met our targets for the first two projects.

Making this project happen will take a lot of effort from many sources. It will also provide many valuable learning opportunities. Quite a few state agencies are interested in working with us on the permitting process in order to be involved in this first-of-its-kind initiative. What this project will do most of all, however, is give people something to look at so they can arrive at their own conclusions.

Q. How do you expect the development challenges of an offshore project to differ from your land-based experience?

A. The offshore project will be more difficult, and it will definitely be more costly. Of course, we feel that the better winds will more than offset the higher upfront costs. Still, as a small community, Hull is not able to fund this project with cash, as it did for the other two turbines. The offshore project will need additional assistance and financing. As the first to do an offshore installation, we are optimistic that financial assistance will be available. For example, we are currently working with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to fund the pre-development activities. In addition, we have applied for federal CREBs (Clean Renewable Energy Bonds). If awarded, this would give the project 16-year, zero-interest financing. Private sources of funding, including venture capitalists, have also approached us with interest in financing the project. We'll consider all of our alternatives, but we need to make sure the economics make sense for the town. If our pre-development studies and economic analysis suggest the project is not worth doing, we won't present it to the town. Fortunately, we haven't identified any fatal flaws or siting barriers. The project is within the territory of the Town of Hull, in state waters. This should simplify the permitting process a lot, relative to the Cape Cod projects. We understand the soil and wind conditions. We need to do wave and geotechnical studies to determine the type of foundation required. Other municipal utilities have already expressed interest in purchasing any excess power. Other entities are interested in buying the renewable energy credits. We have strong public support. Last, and maybe most important, we hope we are in the right place at the right time. When you are first, options open up to you.

Q. Many communities in New England are exploring wind development. How can community leaders learn from your experience?

A. Representatives from just about every Massachusetts community have visited the Hull 1 turbine. Now, more and more out-of-state communities are coming to look. We give them a good "show and tell" of the area, and people in town are always willing to talk about their wind turbines. This has been great for the community in terms of tourism and its economic benefits. We offer an example to follow, and we suggest that other communities contact RERL for assistance, as we did. Also, if you do move forward with a project, get a service agreement from the vendor, so whether or not you operate a municipal light plant, you don't have to worry about keeping it running. Everything is covered and it keeps the blades spinning, which makes everyone happy. Also, the process can be daunting. Get your local politicians engaged. For example, Congressman Delahunt is enthusiastic about renewable energy and actively trying to help communities understand and pursue wind energy projects. Inspired by Hull's efforts, his office is working with communities from Provincetown to Quincy to help them gain the benefits of our experience and collaborate to find creative solutions. My most important recommendation is for each town project to make sure it has a dedicated champion, committed to maintaining forward momentum. It is easy to say that you want a wind turbine, but another thing entirely to follow through.

More Information

Hull Wind

This information was last updated on 4/10/2007

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