Sun, Feb

Hull, Mass., Aims to Build High-Tech Water Desalination Plant

Hull officials are seeking proposals that would enable the town to draw its drinking water from the ocean and possibly build the nation's first wind-powered desalination plant.

Jan. 9—Hull officials are seeking proposals that would enable the town to draw its drinking water from the ocean and possibly build the nation's first wind-powered desalination plant.

The latest push by the Hull Water Resources Committee is part of long-term effort to lower water rates and improve control over the quality of its drinking supply.

"We are investigating the cutting-edge technology of using electricity generated from wind to power the desalination plant," said Thomas Burns, vice chairman of the board. "Water is a fundamental utility and if we can control those costs, it would be a real benefit to the town."

Hull is one of several communities south of Boston exploring ways to alleviate persistent problems with water supply and soaring rates, and looking at desalination plants as a possible solution.

Developers working for Brockton are securing the final permits to begin construction on the state's first desalination plant, which would purify saltwater from the Taunton River in Dighton and sell it to Brockton, Norton, and other interested municipalities.

Hull, which earmarked $280,000 last year to study the feasibility of a similar project, is preparing to send out in the coming weeks a request for proposals from engineering and water treatment technology firms. The plans would help the town determine whether desalinating seawater would lower the town's high water rates, which officials say can reach $800 a year for homeowners.

"We pay one of the highest rates in the United States and that's why we need to look into this," said David Irwin, chairman of the Hull Water Resources Committee.

The proposals are expected to focus on the specifics of the desalination project, including the technology, the permits and infrastructure required, and an overall business model.

Although several water officials favor a wind-powered plant as the most economic plan, Burns said, the committee is open to all technology proposals. Hull already has one power-generating wind turbine and it is in final negotiations to acquire a second one.

The selection of an engineering firm is scheduled for April and preliminary design work could begin as early as the summer. Funds to build the anticipated multimillion dollar project would require Town Meeting approval.

In the meantime, the water committee plans in the next month to publicly identify three potential sites for the desalination plant. Water officials declined to name the sites, saying they did not want to agitate residents in those neighborhoods prematurely.

Hull now gets its drinking water from Aquarion Water, a Connecticut-based private company that also supplies Hingham and part of Cohasset.

If the town moves forward with the desalination proposal, it must decide whether to partner with Aquarion (which owns the water pipes in town), another business, or operate its own municipal water company. A municipal company would allow the town to apply for state and federal grants and borrow money at better rates, Burns said. Also, the town could potentially sell extra water to other communities.

Braintree, which last year approved spending about $75,000 to investigate the feasibility of a desalination plant, said it is interested in pursuing joint ventures.

William Bottiggi, general manager of Braintree Electric Light Department, said his town would probably explore whether it could partner with another community, such as Hull, to build a desalination plant and end years of water restrictions.

"What we're finding is that most communities in this area have issues with water, and we need to find some kind of solution," Bottiggi said.

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© 2005, The Boston Globe. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.