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Renewable energy sources are gaining popularity

A group of employees at Raytheon are indeed looking at the feasibility of wind power, according to William Saslow, a systems engineer at the Portsmouth plant.

EAST BAY - The wind turbine being built at Portsmouth Abbey may end up supplying the campus with half of its electricity, but it's also energizing more interest in renewable forms of energy throughout the region.

And not a moment too soon, according to Bob Chew, president of the Barrington-based SolarWrights Inc., who says wind and solar power and other alternative forms of energy are the future.

He pointed to skyrocketing fuel costs, Hurricane Katrina and other recent natural disasters ("We now realize how vulnerable we are."), more scientific evidence of global warming ("Most people are realizing it's a reality, not a theory.") and other factors that have created a "perfect storm" necessitating more reliance on renewable energy sources.

And that's why all eyes seem to be on the Abbey, which two weeks ago set the anchor for its 164-foot turbine expected to be completed in March. If the turbine does what it's supposed to do, other schools, businesses, state agencies and even residential neighborhoods may follow its lead, especially now that Gov. Donald Carcieri's goal is for 15 percent of the state's power to be supplied by wind.

Abbey officials are well aware of their trend-setting status.

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EAST BAY - The wind turbine being built at Portsmouth Abbey may end up supplying the campus with half of its electricity, but it's also energizing more interest in renewable forms of energy throughout the region.

And not a moment too soon, according to Bob Chew, president of the Barrington-based SolarWrights Inc., who says wind and solar power and other alternative forms of energy are the future.

He pointed to skyrocketing fuel costs, Hurricane Katrina and other recent natural disasters ("We now realize how vulnerable we are."), more scientific evidence of global warming ("Most people are realizing it's a reality, not a theory.") and other factors that have created a "perfect storm" necessitating more reliance on renewable energy sources.

And that's why all eyes seem to be on the Abbey, which two weeks ago set the anchor for its 164-foot turbine expected to be completed in March. If the turbine does what it's supposed to do, other schools, businesses, state agencies and even residential neighborhoods may follow its lead, especially now that Gov. Donald Carcieri's goal is for 15 percent of the state's power to be supplied by wind.

Abbey officials are well aware of their trend-setting status.

"Predominately, we did this to save us some serious electricity and thus some money for the school," said Brother Joseph Byron of Portsmouth Abbey, who has been championing the school's wind project. "But we also thought it was the right sort of thing for a school to be doing. It sets an example as a standing model for both the town and the state."

The turbine site has drawn its share of visitors, who are watching the project closely. "Lots of people have come out to look," said Brother Joseph, adding that he's "heard through the grapevine" that both Raytheon and the Navy base have expressed interest.

A group of employees at Raytheon are indeed looking at the feasibility of wind power, according to William Saslow, a systems engineer at the Portsmouth plant. "We're hoping we can generate up to a quarter of the power for Raytheon. That would really lighten the overloaded grid on the island and make it a lot easier on the power companies," said Mr. Saslow, a member of the Raytheon Employees Wildlife Habitat Committee (REWHC).

So far, the group has collected four months' worth of data on whether there's enough wind at the site. The committee's other focus, however, is determining a turbine's impact on the Raytheon site's ecology. "We have a nice piece of land here and we have some wind.

It's also a certified wildlife habitat," said Mr. Saslow. "We've been looking at it from the feasibility side of where we would put it. This is a migration path. No environmental group wants a flock of dead birds at the bottom of a turbine."

One of the advisors to the project — there are several — is the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, which has been invaluable in helping the group track the movement of birds in the area. Mr. Saslow said studies have shown that with slow-rotating blades, only about two to three birds per turbine are killed each year.

The committee will have a better idea of where the proposal stands by the second quarter of this year. "We want to look at the data from the Abbey, and correlate their wind data with ours," Mr. Saslow said. "After that we would talk with the community. It should be a win-win situation. We want this to be a good example for other companies to look at."

Of course, judging by the controversy stirred up by the proposal to locate 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound, local residents could have plenty to say about the appearance of the turbine. (The REWHC report can be viewed here: http://rewhc.org/wind/windhealth.shtml. The site welcomes feedback and suggestions from the community.)

Both Mr. Saslow and Mr. Chew said the Town of Portsmouth — officials there have also mentioned their high school as a possible location for a turbine— has been forward thinking in the field of wind power.

"Portsmouth has taken a leadership position, no question. They were the first ones to take the leap," said Mr. Chew.

Limited funds available

However, whether or not residential homeowners can benefit significantly from renewable energy remains to be seen. Renewable energy may pay off in the long run, but initial start-up costs can be considerable. That's why the state is offering financial relief to those who apply.

The state Renewable Energy Fund offers a buy-down of anywhere from $2 to $3.50 per watt, depending on the renewable system being used.

In addition, legislation passed last June provides for a 25 percent income tax credit for homeowners installing renewable energy systems, including solar heating or wind power. Renewable energy products are also exempt from the state sales tax.

But there's only so much money in the grant pot, and competition is fierce. "The cost of (a renewable system) is expensive, but it's still a lot more reasonable than it would be without the credit," said Sen.

David Bates of Barrington (R-Dist. 9), who sponsored the tax credit bill. "The problem is that the fund is not that large."

Mr. Chew, who called Sen. Bates "the champion of the renewable energy industry," said the solar energy side of his business has leveled off because of the limited relief for homeowners. "We're growing faster in Connecticut," he said.

Janice McClanaghan, chief of energy and community services for the state Energy Office, said the Renewable Energy Fund has about $2.4 million available annually, much of which goes to outreach and education, solar power for homes and feasibility studies. Most of those funds are already committed for this year. "The word is spreading and people are becoming more interested," she said, adding that fund is "oversubscribed" for homeowners seeking to install solar heating systems.

Among those homeowners who took advantage of the state tax relief were Dennis and Sharon Culberson of Tiverton. Last week workers from SolarWrights installed solar panels at their Brayton Road property. "This had been our plan for over 20 years and we were finally able to get the tax credits for it," said Mrs. Culberson.

Mr. Chew, who is also getting into the wind business, said he loves solar energy because "it has the least impact of any of the technology" and that the hot water systems last for 25 years.

Energy-efficient home

Steve and Ann Gardner of Bristol are also going the solar energy route — and then some. The couple purchased Mr. Chew's environment-friendly contracting business, RemodelWrights, Corp., and are now constructing their own home, the company's first floor-up build. The large Acacia Drive home — it will have more than 4,000 square feet of living space — replaces their old summer cottage and is expected to be completed by mid-February.

Solar heat is only one energy-efficient aspect of the house. Concrete forms insulated with Styrofoam are used in the walls, and the home also will have radiant heat, which uses hot water, steam pipes or electric resistance coils to heat the floors, walls or ceilings.

"The house is so tight that you don't have drafts," said Mr. Gardner. "The comfort of the house comes from having it sealed."

The couple is also using energy-efficient lightbulbs — high intensity discharge bulbs which are three to five times more efficient than standard bulbs.

The home is environmentally friendly in every sense of the word. Bamboo flooring runs throughout. Since bamboo grows so fast, it's considered a much more renewable source than hardwood. "It's part of our mantra of building green," said Mr. Gardner, adding that the price of bamboo flooring is on par with oak.

The couple doesn't know how much it will save on energy bills, but is confident that the house will pay for itself in no time. "It probably costs about five to 10 percent more to frame a similar structure, but I'm sure we'll get that back," he said.

Pellet stoves eco-friendly, but supplies have been scarce
There's another renewable energy source that's friendly to the environment and your wallet. Wood-pellet stoves are growing in popularity, yet seem to be a victim of their own success this winter.

There's been a run on the wood pellets used to fire the stoves, with some local stores reporting that they don't expect to stock any more this season.

The wood pellets are made from compressed recycled sawdust and look like rabbit food. More homeowners are switching to pellet stoves due to the higher costs of traditional heating systems. The pellets offer the cleanest burn of any solid fuel, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and they give off plenty of heat.

But manufacturers have had trouble keeping up with the demand for either the stoves or the pellets that they burn, and costs for the latter have risen as much as threefold.

"This past year has been unbelievable," said Eric O'Brien of New England Hearth & Patio in Barrington. "We sold out of (pellet stoves) about a month ago and we're waiting for more stock to come in."

He estimated that the large Maple Avenue store has sold "100 to 150" wood-pellet stoves over the past year.

The store doesn't sell pellets, although it keeps its own stash on hand to fire up the display models on the floor. "They can't keep up with the demand," Mr. O'Brien said of the pellet shortage. "The price has gone up as well."

But that may be changing, as manufacturers such as New England Wood Pellet, Inc. in New Hampshire have vowed to increase production.

So who's got the precious pellets, which are like gold this winter? Negus Lumber in Swansea reported having pellets in stock. "We've got plenty of them," a representative said Friday, noting that the store had 60 bags.

Ash Away Island Hearth & Patio, with locations in Middletown and North Dartmouth, Mass., also reported an abundance of pellets.

Home Depot in Seekonk was out of pellets on Friday, but was expecting a fresh shipment by Monday.

Home Depot's Middletown store, however, didn't expect to have pellets back in stock any time soon. "We've been out for a month and a half and we're not getting any more in," a representative there said.

Agway in Portsmouth is another store that's been cleaned out. "We're out of them for the season," an employee said last week.

A cheaper burn

Besides being environmentally friendly, pellet stoves can save homeowners money in the long run — assuming the cost of pellets remains fairly stable.

The average person needs about three tons of wood pellets per year to heat a home. Using Home Depot's Seekonk store's rate of $229 per ton, it would cost $687 annually to heat a home with wood pellets. Compare that to home heating oil, which will run you $1,200 to $1,500 annually.

However, the cost of pellets doesn't factor in the electricity needed to power the stoves. "They won't work if they're not plugged in," said Mr. O'Brien.

He added that the recent surge in sales of wood-pellet stoves hasn't diminished any interest in the old standby: the wood stove. "Wood stove sales are up big time. Wood is still the cheapest way to burn by far," he said.

Education could be a breeze at Abbey

The 78-ton turbine being erected at Portsmouth Abbey will of course primarily be used for supplying about half the campus with electricity. But there's an educational component to the machine as well, according to the Abbey's Brother Joseph Byron.

He said there's nothing stopping the school from working the turbine into the science curriculum. In fact, he expects the school to include a link on its Web site, detailing current data collected by the turbine.

"Online, people will be able to see what the turbine is doing," said Brother Joseph, adding that the machine will have plenty to teach about meteorology, environmental science, physics and more. "If you want to calculate what kind of energy wind generates, this will tell you."

The turbine's construction has certainly set off a buzz within the school population, said Brother Joseph. Students can't wait for the machine to be up and running.

"Everyone is enthusiastic about it," he said. "In some ways they don't want (the turbine) to come in March because they have a spring break then."

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

JAN 24 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/1062-renewable-energy-sources-are-gaining-popularity
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