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Winds of change in Northeast

ELIOT, Maine -- The call for finding alternative energy sources and gaining energy independence has been growing increasingly louder in the past few years. Fueled by the continued rising cost of crude oil and fears of global warming, Americans across the country are pushing the government to take action.

Last month, after urging from Eliot resident Dan Gair, selectmen formed an energy commission. This group has been charged with looking into all aspects of Eliot's energy usage and creating an environmental policy for the town. But before sitting down and hashing out policy, Gair said he would like to see the energy commission first look into the feasibility of building a wind turbine, more commonly known as a windmill, somewhere in Eliot.

The first step would be to conduct a wind study, either through an engineering firm or with the help of local residents. By purchasing an anemometer, which measures wind speed, the yearlong survey could be done inexpensively. While there was concern among selectmen about even the smallest costs, Gair said if he had to, he would raise the money privately to get the research done.

Gair is known in town as a photographer by trade and one of the co-founders of Eliot Citizens for Responsible Development. He said recently he is focusing less on the development watchdog group and more on ways to protect the environment on a local level for years to come.

A wind turbine is a win-win opportunity for Eliot and other communities, Gair said.

"None of it is a... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Last month, after urging from Eliot resident Dan Gair, selectmen formed an energy commission. This group has been charged with looking into all aspects of Eliot's energy usage and creating an environmental policy for the town. But before sitting down and hashing out policy, Gair said he would like to see the energy commission first look into the feasibility of building a wind turbine, more commonly known as a windmill, somewhere in Eliot.

The first step would be to conduct a wind study, either through an engineering firm or with the help of local residents. By purchasing an anemometer, which measures wind speed, the yearlong survey could be done inexpensively. While there was concern among selectmen about even the smallest costs, Gair said if he had to, he would raise the money privately to get the research done.

Gair is known in town as a photographer by trade and one of the co-founders of Eliot Citizens for Responsible Development. He said recently he is focusing less on the development watchdog group and more on ways to protect the environment on a local level for years to come.

A wind turbine is a win-win opportunity for Eliot and other communities, Gair said.

"None of it is a wasted effort," he said. "Towns and cities are taking it into their own hands, even though the national government isn't."

The idea is still in its infancy, and it is unknown how large the windmill would be, who would run it, how the power would be distributed, and where it would be located. The idea of a public turbine is nothing new, however, and there are now dozens of other wind projects under way throughout New England.

Arguably the most well known is the embattled Cape Winds project proposed for Nantucket Sound, but there are also other projects that have received wide support.

In 2001, the town of Hull, Mass., completed construction on the Hull Wind One project, a 150-foot-tall windmill with 75-foot-long blades. To put this into perspective, if placed under the Interstate 95 bridge over the Piscataqua River, such a wind turbine would take up nearly the entire distance from the bridge platform to the surface of the water below. The Hull windmill is situated on the tip of a peninsula jutting into Boston Harbor, known as Windmill Point, just 8 miles from downtown Boston and 5 miles from Logan Airport.

Hull Wind One is Massachusetts' first modern wind turbine, the first commercial-scale turbine on the East Coast, and the first suburban-sited turbine on the North American continent. The project has received awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Massachusetts Legislature.

Each year, the turbine generates about 1.6 million kilowatts of electricity, which is sold through the Hull Municipal Light Plant. The turbine cost more than $750,000 to build and about $30,000 to maintain each year, but the University of Massachusetts estimates the town has thus far saved between $2 million and $3 million on energy costs.

Hull, which is home to about 10,500 residents, estimates the windmill has reduced local CO2 emissions by 1,200 tons per year, nitric oxide by 5 tons per year, and sulfate dioxide by 7 tons annually.

The town recently dedicated a second, more powerful turbine at the town landfill named the Hull Wind Two. Andrew Stern, one of the Hull Wind project's biggest proponents, said there were very few who were not supportive of the latest project.

"They needed a two-thirds majority town vote at the town meeting, and it was such an overwhelming vocal vote that a paper ballot didn't need to be taken," he said.

For more than 200 years, Windmill Point has been home to wind turbines of one kind or another, which many feel is why townspeople were so receptive to the new project. Not all communities welcome wind energy with such open arms.

In Carrabassett Valley, near Surgarloaf USA Ski Resort, a number of concerned citizens met with the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission to discuss a proposed wind farm along Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain. Maine Mountain Power has petitioned to rezone about 1,000 acres for the 90-megawatt wind farm, which the company says would provide enough power to supply 40,000 and would help Maine avoid producing more than 800,000 pounds of air pollution per day from existing power plants.

Maine Mountain Power presented a petition signed by 2,000 project supporters, and state Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, spoke in favor of the wind farm. There were those residents and about a dozen organizations, including the Appalachian Mountain Club, that opposed the project. They said the windmills would cause harm to plants and animals and would ruin views long the Appalachian Trail.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, however, wind turbines are not typically harmful to birds or bats. There have been some high-profile cases of this happening, but in general that is not the case. The group also dispels claims wind turbines are noisy, are a nuisance and are dangerous.

While Carrabassett Valley is questioning the wind farm, a few hours south in Saco, residents are welcoming a smaller turbine with open arms, City Councilor Eric Cote said.

"Nobody has complained yet," he said.

The council recently approve $8,000 for a 75-foot-tall turbine at the wastewater treatment plant that will eventually be used to power the facility. Cote said the key to getting the community on board is educating them on the benefits.

Stern agreed.

"One of the things, without a doubt, that makes a project like this successful is engaging folks early and giving an absolute truth," he said. Telling people about the cost savings is another way to get people on board, Stern added.

"The first (Hull) machine paid for itself in four years. Every year you put something like this off, you lose," Stern said.

Bill Burtis, of Clean Air Cool Planet, an environmental group that promotes clean energy, also touted the benefits of education to dispel fears about wind power.

"The biggest objection usually is the view," he said. "Some people find them beautiful and some people find them industrially repulsive."

Burtis said he and his pro-wind power organization try to remind people about the trade-offs.

"How much damage are we doing to the natural environment with acid rain, with ozone (depletion), with climate change? Windmills don't create those things," he said.

Although there would be significant costs and likely debate as to where it should be built, if at all, an Eliot wind-power project is something that could be a great opportunity for the town, Gair said, and he hopes people will join in the effort.

"I think that windmills are the beacons of hope and direction for the 21st century," he said. "If followed, they can lead us toward energy independence and away from the rocky shoals of global warming."

 

blamontagne@seacoastonline.com


Source: http://www.seacoastonline.c...

AUG 13 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/3957-winds-of-change-in-northeast
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