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Wind power could be in Chariho's future

With a budgeted $480,000 for district fuel costs in 2007, Chariho could be making a jump into alternative energy in the near future.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Philip Thornton is hoping a $24,000 state grant for a wind energy study could lay the groundwork for a district-wide energy revolution, one that he says could reverse Chariho's rising fuel costs.

"We're trying to be proactive," Thornton says. "Our current [fuel] bill is $400,000 every year, so we're looking long-term."

The grant, for which applications are due February 23rd, will provide awardees the resources to conduct a feasibility study on wind power.

Phase I of the study would involve using special software to determine the most efficient windmill locations and erecting temporary wind stations for nine to twelve months.

If the results from those stations are promising, the town or district could then enter phase II and request state assistance in purchasing actual windmills.

"I'm always optimistic-I think we make a good case," says Thornton, who is writing a grant application with Dan Cartier, Director of Buildings and Grounds at Chariho. "We have all kinds of resources here to pick from."

Thornton must also convince the towns to buy into his vision of a wind-powered Chariho. Wind energy is a prime example of an economy of scale:... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Philip Thornton is hoping a $24,000 state grant for a wind energy study could lay the groundwork for a district-wide energy revolution, one that he says could reverse Chariho's rising fuel costs.

"We're trying to be proactive," Thornton says. "Our current [fuel] bill is $400,000 every year, so we're looking long-term."

The grant, for which applications are due February 23rd, will provide awardees the resources to conduct a feasibility study on wind power.

Phase I of the study would involve using special software to determine the most efficient windmill locations and erecting temporary wind stations for nine to twelve months.

If the results from those stations are promising, the town or district could then enter phase II and request state assistance in purchasing actual windmills.

"I'm always optimistic-I think we make a good case," says Thornton, who is writing a grant application with Dan Cartier, Director of Buildings and Grounds at Chariho. "We have all kinds of resources here to pick from."

Thornton must also convince the towns to buy into his vision of a wind-powered Chariho. Wind energy is a prime example of an economy of scale: energy savings rise in correlation with the size and number of wind turbines, and the study would require access to town-owned land to determine the locations of maximum productivity.

After meeting with the Richmond Town Council last Tuesday, Thornton reported a "very positive" response to the idea, as well as an endorsement to pursue the grant. He is also tentatively scheduled to meet with the Charlestown Town Council on February 27th and has already contacted representatives from the Narragansett Tribe.

Thorton says he is "encouraged" by the positive reactions to the project, considering the scope and scale of wind power.

"It's quite a large project," he explains, which could be a literal assessment of the windmills themselves, which often reach heights of 300 to 400 feet. And if Thornton's projection of three to five district windmills becomes a reality, the skyline of Chariho could be changed for years to come.

After suffering a 60 percent increase in fuel costs over the past five years, however, a few eyesores in the eyes of some may be worth fatter wallets in the pockets of many.

"I'm just trying to attack these costs," Thornton says. "Once you pay for the windmills, it's a great savings for the district."


A changing landscape

Europe was first to embrace wind power as a practical alternative to fossil fuels, electricity and nuclear energy. Twenty years ago,
communities in Germany, Spain, Denmark and other progressive countries began developing wind farms to harvest natural energy when it became clear (as it is becoming clear in America today) that traditional resources were becoming uneconomical.

In America, wind power has been slow to catch on but is garnering more supporters thanks to the success of farms in California and the Great Plains. Locally, wind harvesting in Hull, MA and at Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island have offered hope for a technology in a region that, until recently, was thought to be ill-suited for wind power.

Despite its "Ocean State" moniker, Rhode Island does not have the productive winds of other regions. According to a wind map by the U.S. Department of Energy, for example, much of Rhode Island falls under the "poor" and "marginal" categories for wind potential, while most coastal communities only receive "fair" rankings.

"According to the data I've seen so far, Rhode Island is not the first place to put up windmills-it's more of a second level," Cartier says.

But rising fuel costs and steep price hikes for electricity have mitigated the drawbacks to wind harvesting. As Cartier says, "now the economy justifies it."

A leap of faith

At Portsmouth Abbey, a large, private Catholic boarding school overlooking Narragansett Bay, the decision to commit to a relatively risky energy source was primarily a financial one.

The $1.25 million, 164-foot Vestas V-47 Wind Turbine is projected to produce 40 percent of the school's electricity, a rate at which, in five year to ten years, the windmill would be paying for itself. But even with Portsmouth Abbey's current yearly electric bill of $200,000, Brother Joseph Byron, who led the campaign for the project, says the windmill was not an easy sell to the school or the surrounding community.

"We were very nervous, given all the negative press about Cape Wind (a planned off-shore wind farm on Nantucket Sound)...who knew what was going to happen?" he says. "There's no way around it-the things is huge."

The size and placement of the windmill were the main concerns of the public, Brother Joseph found, and there wasn't much he could do to persuade some people otherwise: "it looms larger in your imagination," he explains.

Still, Brother Joseph received support from school officials and, surprising to him, members of the community, even those who would end up living side-by-side the giant. Their optimism was not without reason, too, considering the potential benefit to the energy consumers who live on the same electrical grid as the school.

"This machine is big enough that on a windy day, this thing would be producing more than what this school could use," Brother Joseph explains. Any of this excess energy could then be shared with the outside community.

Even though the larger, 660 kWh turbine was admittedly a "tougher nut to sell," Brother Joseph says the windmill's energy production ended up being worth the trouble to Portsmouth Abbey and its neighbors.

"The way we've done it is that the individual institution has looked at the land and looked at their resources to see if it's a good fit," he says. "Then you'll get an idea of what you've really got for a wind source."

A case for Chariho

If the Vestas V-47 was a tough nut for Portsmouth, multiple turbines in Chariho will be something different all together. But despite the physical and logistical limitations of wind harvesting, Cartier believes the district has the resources to support a successful project.

"I think there are ways to make it work," he says. "Within the Chariho district, I know we could find sufficient sites."

Cartier points to the success of other towns and districts, which is growing: as of last year, wind power production had grown more than a third since 2002.

What Cartier and Thornton continue to argue, however, is that Chariho is not in a position to close down avenues that could save fuel costs. At the Career and Technical Center, for example, the district just recently made a major shift from electrical to oil heating, only to suffer the fuel price hikes of 2005.

"We're 20 years behind," Cartier says. "We're not the only district in the country doing this.

Source: http://www.zwire.com/site/n...

FEB 19 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/1368-wind-power-could-be-in-chariho-s-future
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