I’d thought about liveblogging the Historical Commission meeting yesterday, but I felt a more polished summary would be appropriate, because not everything is of interest to everyone. (I’m also not familiar with half of what was discussed in the meeting, so I’m open to being corrected if I’m wrong.)
The most interesting part of the meeting was at the end, when John O’Dell, the energy services manager for the city, made a presentation about City Hall projects for energy efficiency and a conservation block grant proposal. The proposal for energy efficiency would include bringing gas in under ground (currently it’s oil), putting in a chiller on Front Street side adjacent to the proposed ice rink, and replacing the caulking on the windows. (The windows were double-glazed in 2002 or 2003 with a $500k grant to replace the windows. This would just be for the caulking.) There would be a 4’x4′ gas meter installed on the outside of City Hall, which would likely not have obvious controls on the front. (For this, he needs a letter of approval from the Commission because City Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.)
The controversial part of this was that one of the proposals for the grant is a long-term demonstration (2.5 or 5 kw) wind turbine on the Common. The turbine would be roughly as high as the flagpoles (40 feet). It would provide modest power to feed to the building (O’Dell estimated four houses’ worth of power), but the main purpose of the turbine would be to show the city’s commitment to be energy efficient and also to encourage homeowners to consider a smaller wind turbine. The reason this model was chosen because it has a low cut-in speed (=it works at low wind speeds) and is able to handle wind from a lot of different angles, as can happen in urban locations. The cost would be between $40-50,000, much of which is for the support structure.
The Commission was not happy about the turbine. The were told it couldn’t be located across the street, at Sovereign Bank, because it needs to be close to the meter. The further you go from the meter, the more expensive it gets to operate. They also wanted to know if it could be located on the Front Street side of the building, and O’Dell said he would explore that option. They wanted to know if it could be located at another site, like the vocational school. O’Dell said that they are looking into a larger turbine for the Voke school, and also that they wanted an example of a smaller turbine in a very visible location.
Much of the pushback from the Commission is that a wind turbine would detract from the Common. (The rest of the pushback focused on how the turbine would only generate enough for “four toasters”, and O’Dell’s not losing his cool speaks as much about his personal fortitude as to the Commissioners’ need for hearing aids.)
Now, one could argue that having a small turbine would detract from the beauty or historicity of the Common, but I don’t know how that’s inconsistent with the city’s recent (and not-so-recent) activity on the Common. So, (really scary) fake Christmas trees don’t detract from the Common. Ice skating rinks that need chillers installed? Go for it! Moving bodies buried on the Common and removing grave marker stones — not a problem! Looks just like 1896 to me! Let’s not show any sort of commitment to energy efficiency when it could get in the way of keeping a skating rink cold!
(In fairness, there was discussion of the chiller having a solar panel on its roof. But maybe that proves my point. One commissioner had asked O’Dell why solar panels on City Hall wasn’t considered; but I got the feeling that, if that had been considered, it would have been criticized and they would have asked him why there couldn’t be a wind turbine on the Common.)
Now, the bread and butter issues of Historical Commission meetings are vinyl windows and siding, and there was plenty of that, but I want to devote a separate post to that. So I’ll be writing more about the Historical Commission on the weekend.