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Westport voters face turbine question

An expert says that a wind turbine at the town-owned forest behind Beech Grove Cemetery would generate as much electricity or more than a similar turbine in Portsmouth, R.I. that has netted that town $281,219 in cash after all costs in just one year. After hearing on March 20 that an investment in a 1.65 megawatt turbine may produce as good as or better results than Portsmouth's The Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to place a question of whether the town will fund a $14,500 feasibility study on the Town Meeting.

New proposal to build a utility-scale turbine, perhaps at Town Forest

WESTPORT - An expert says that a wind turbine at the town-owned forest behind Beech Grove Cemetery would generate as much electricity or more than a similar turbine in Portsmouth, R.I. that has netted that town $281,219 in cash after all costs in just one year.

After hearing on March 20 that an investment in a 1.65 megawatt turbine may produce as good as or better results than Portsmouth's - whose turbine generated more power and more revenue than expected - The Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to place a question of whether the town will fund a $14,500 feasibility study on the Town Meeting (May 25) warrant. Voters will decide if they want to pursue a study of site conditions, which would open up the possibility of receiving state grants and zero-interest loans for the purchase and construction of a turbine.

Simon Thomas, president of Atlantic Design Engineers of Sandwich, Mass., has narrowed down the best sites for a turbine on town-owned land down to two: The transfer station and the Town Forest, off of Hixbridge Road behind Beech Grove Cemetery. But given the setback restrictions at the transfer station, he recommends going with the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

New proposal to build a utility-scale turbine, perhaps at Town Forest

WESTPORT - An expert says that a wind turbine at the town-owned forest behind Beech Grove Cemetery would generate as much electricity or more than a similar turbine in Portsmouth, R.I. that has netted that town $281,219 in cash after all costs in just one year.

After hearing on March 20 that an investment in a 1.65 megawatt turbine may produce as good as or better results than Portsmouth's - whose turbine generated more power and more revenue than expected - The Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to place a question of whether the town will fund a $14,500 feasibility study on the Town Meeting (May 25) warrant. Voters will decide if they want to pursue a study of site conditions, which would open up the possibility of receiving state grants and zero-interest loans for the purchase and construction of a turbine.

Simon Thomas, president of Atlantic Design Engineers of Sandwich, Mass., has narrowed down the best sites for a turbine on town-owned land down to two: The transfer station and the Town Forest, off of Hixbridge Road behind Beech Grove Cemetery. But given the setback restrictions at the transfer station, he recommends going with the Town Forest.

The Town Forest site has nearly ideal conditions, Mr. Thomas says. First of all, it has excellent breezes, with winds blowing an averagte 14.2 miles per hour at 229 feet (70 meters) - very similar to the wind conditions at the turbine site in Portsmouth. At 262 feet (80 meters), there is a 15 percent increase in wind speeds, ranging an estimated 14.5 to 14.8 miles per hour, Mr. Thomas said - and that can mean producing about half a million kilowatts per hour (kWh) more each year over what Portsmouth's turbine makes. This site also has a nearby power hookup to connect the turbine to on Hixbridge Road.

But what makes it an ideal site from a residents' perspective, Mr. Thomas says, is the lack of dense housing surrounding the site. The closest structure, not counting the new fire station, is 752 feet to the northwest. To the south, it is 1,051 feet to the nearest house. To the southwest, it is 1,272 feet, and to the west, 935 feet to the nearest structure. All of these fall comfortably outside a 400-foot "fall zone" were the turbine ever to topple. Even the new fire station will be outside of the fall zone, Mr. Thomas says, but he wasn't sure if any graves lie within the fall zone.

Other sites were considered. But because this is one of the most southerly sites owned by the town, and for its good conditions to build a turbine, Mr. Thomas and the town's Alternative Energy Committee agreed the Town Forest should be chosen.

After selectmen urged looking at more sites at the meeting on March 20, Mr. Thomas agreed he would study any sites requested by the town. In particular, selectmen asked if an agreement could be struck between the town and the state to build a turbine on the state's Horseneck Beach Reservation or state-owned land near Horseneck that was formerly the town's dump. (The farther south a turbine is built, there are better wind resources.) Selectmen said they would reach out to state officials to see if they would be receptive to such a project.

Study

Doing a feasibility study, which is what voters will approve or reject, will determine if the chosen site has the resources to support a wind turbine. It takes into account available wind resources, soil conditions and the condition of the surrounding land.

For Westport, the cost of this study will be $14,500. Typically, these studies cost quite a bit more, but Mr. Thomas believes that the town can use data of wind resources from a study that Lees Market recently conducted when looking into a turbine for the market on Main Road.

A feasibility study is necessary to show that the town has a "feasible project," which would make the town eligible to receive funding, like the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) that provide zero-interest loans for wind-turbine projects. The Town of Portsmouth received $2.6 million in CREBs and a 2 percent interest loan from the state of Rhode Island to cover the rest of the cost of the $2.95 million AAER 1.5 MW turbine. (Portsmouth also received a $25,000 state grant to do the feasibility study.)

Cost analysis

Portsmouth's $2.95 million turbine pays for itself and then some.

In its first year, from last March to this past March, the 1.5 MW turbine cranked out 3,359,100 kWh - 310,073 kWh more than the town had expected. For many months, November through March, the turbine generated between 15 to 63 percent more power than the highest estimate figured by engineers. In December, the turbine generated electricity at 163 percent of the estimate. Overall for the year, the turbine has produced 10-1/2 percent more power than had been estimated.

After the town paid the $235,679 in operational expenses and debt service, a cool $281,219 in cash was netted. And those net-revenue figures are better than what was expected, too, by $47,714.

Portsmouth's turbine is not set up as a "behind-the-meter" service, although that was the original intention. A behind-the-meter connection would have had the power flowing directly into the town's schools, offsetting the cost of their annual electric bill.

Instead, the turbine is set up essentially as a power plant. The electricity generated by the turbine is not used on the site; it flows onto the grid and is dispersed throughout the National Grid service area. National Grid buys the energy at 11.4 cents per kilowatt hour, and then writes a check to the town. In addition, the town also sells Renewable Energy Certificates at 4 cents per kWh, netting the town 15.3 cents for each kWh generated.

"We're a power plant just the same way Brayton Point is a power plant," said Gary Crosby, Portsmouth's assistant town planner who oversees the turbine's operations.

Between school buildings, town buildings and street lamps, Portsmouth budgeted to spend $650,815 on electricity for this fiscal year, ending June 30. The revenue produced by the turbine knocked off 36.2 percent from that bill, bringing it down to $415,136. Money generated by the turbine goes into the town's general fund, and then through an agreement between the Town Council and School Committee is dispersed 69 percent to the school budget and 31 percent to the municipal budget.

Once the turbine has been paid off in another 12 years, or so, the town will be raking in all the proceeds after operational expenses.

New turbines

Mr. Thomas says that Westport can expect even better results in energy-production than Portsmouth is seeing.

Ther are two reasons for that - the turbine blades will be at a taller height than Portsmouth's, and the new generation of turbines produces an average of 15 percent more power than the class of turbine that Portsmouth purchased just over a year ago.

The Alternative Energy Committee is looking into two tower heights for a 1.65 MW turbine: 262 feet (80 meters) and 328 feet (100 meters). These measurements are from the turbine base to the height of the hub, which houses the gearbox and rotor. Portsmouth's turbine reaches 213 feet (nearly 70 meters) to the hub and to 336 feet from the turbine base to the tip of one of the 123-foot-long blades.

The reason for seeking a taller tower height, Mr. Thomas says, is that stronger winds are available up high. If Westport chose to build a 1.65 MW turbine on a 229-foot (70 meter) tower, if would get wind speeds that are similar to Portsmouth's, and could expect similar results. At the height of 262 feet (80 meters), a turbine would access about 15 percent more wind speeds, producing an estimated half a million kilowatt-hours more in electricity each year over what Portsmouth's turbine has produced.

David Dionne, chairman of the alternative energy committee, said that with a 328-foot tower (100 meters), "it's an even better wind resource" provided by the same turbine.

Mr. Thomas said a taller tower would mean more money, on the order of about another $150,000, he guessed. The town would probably be able to make that up in additional electricity produced in a few years, he said.

Plus the latest model of turbines, called the Class 3 turbines, produce more power than does the Class 2 turbine owned by Portsmouth, Mr. Thomas said. The blade diameter of Class 3 turbines is wider by 15 feet, which generates 12 to 15 percent more power than the previous class. The blade pitching and efficiency of the gearbox in Class 3 turbines has also improved, he said. The blades are also better designed to make "much less noise." Despite these changes in blade diameter, Mr. Thomas said a 1.65 MW turbine should look much the same as Portsmouth's 1.5 MW turbine.

Why build one?

The cost of a turbine has come down quite a bit, Mr. Thomas said. As a "victim of the economy," not only have the turbine parts dropped in price, but construction costs have also fallen. And many more turbine models are available for small-scale projects, such as a municipality building one turbine.

Mr. Dionne says that if voters approve funding a feasibility study at Town Meeting, grants and financing will open up to do the next steps in planning and building. "A feasibility study shows that the town has made that commitment and that the data is available that proves a turbine will work at that site," he said.

Portsmouth's success - and the $281,000 the town collected this year as a "power plant" -goes to show that a turbine "is a very good investment, and it's the right thing to do," Mr. Dionne said.

"I think the general public gets it," Mr. Dionne said. "They wanted to put a smaller turbine at Town Hall because it was the right thing to do." (That project has been canned.) "I like to think that every turbine that goes up saves a piece of glacier somewhere. And we add incrementally to our national security by generating our own electricity."


Source: http://www.eastbayri.com/de...

MAY 14 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/26239-westport-voters-face-turbine-question
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