Camden Hills Windplanners gain approval for on-campus turbine

By Shlomit Auciello | May 12, 2010
Photo by: Shlomit Auciello Camden Hills Regional High School's Windplanners said they believe the educational value of an on-campus wind turbine would justify the installation; they also said it would pay for itself over the 20-year life projected for the generator.

Rockport — A proposal that a group of Camden Hills Regional High School students have been working on since 2004, to install a working, community scale wind turbine on the Rockport campus, gained school board approval May 5.

While the original members of the Windplanners team have graduated and new students have joined the project, there has been steady progress as the group has worked to change local and state laws that affect issues ranging from tower heights to the manner in which surplus energy is metered by Central Maine Power.

Along the way, the Windplanners have met with support and concern, and both ends of the spectrum were represented at the May 5 meeting.

Students, some of them in costumes worn for a rehearsal of an upcoming production of "The Crucible," stood before the board as members of the Windplanners team presented data to support their proposal.

Local resident challenges plan

With the help of the Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Windplanners erected a meteorological tower to monitor the wind speed at the site and compare the data gathered there to that from locations in Portland, Augusta and Penobscot Bay. They determined that the resource at Camden Hills, while not as robust as that found atop Ragged Mountain or at sea, could be expected to provide wind speeds averaging 4.5 meters per second and had the potential to produce between 99,000 and 125,000 kilowatt hours of electrical energy per year.

Rockport resident Jim Mays challenged that contention.

"The average wind speed measured was only 3.86 meters per second -- way down in the weeds as a Class I wind source," Mays said. "According to every wind turbine resource available, wind turbines require at least Class II wind to be viable." Mays said Class II starts at 5.4 meters per second for turbines of the height the Windplanners proposed.

Northern Power Systems Marketing and Communications Manager Eve Frankel said May 7 that the wind speed at the Camden Hills site, which she said had been projected to be about 4.9 meters per second on average, was modest. The Vermont-based company manufactures the Northwind 100 turbine the Windplanners have chosen for the project.

"Our gearless drive allows the turbine to capture energy from more modest wind speeds," Frankel said. She said Northern Power Systems turbines have been sited at a large number of academic institutions from elementary schools to universities, and one of the benefits of the systems is the exposure students receive to green technology.

Frankel said an additional incentive for Camden Hills was a 10 cent per kilowatt feed-in tariff now under review by the Public Utilities Commission. If approved, the change would mean that producers such as Camden Hills would receive a credit of 10 cents for every kilowatt of energy produced from renewable sources. The PUC is currently receiving comments on the feed-in tariff proposal, Frankel said.

"If they're paying 16 cents per kilowatt now, at 4.9 meters per second they should save close to $20,000 without the tariff," she said. Frankel estimated an additional $12,000 in savings if the tariff is approved.

Mays also expressed concern that much of the original data had been misplaced as original members of the Windplanners left the high school.

"They looked for their old papers, records and computer files and found that those calculations must have been lost," Mays said. "However, they felt confident that their estimate of 4.38 meters per second would bear scrutiny even though they could not duplicate the calculations."

"I challenge those conclusions," he said. "They are extrapolations on top of extrapolations; wishful thinking piled on top of good intentions."

Professor James F. Manwell is the director of the UMass laboratory. Manwell said May 6 that the methods used to come up with the expected wind speeds are standard procedures that people use all over the world. He said that based on a comparison between the original meteorological tower readings and current data from other Maine locations, wind speeds at the site could be even faster than originally estimated.

"There's a lot of uncertainty," Manwell said. "The analysis actually suggests a higher number but I would err on the conservative side." He stood by the figure of 4.5 meters per second.

Wind speeds vary depending on location

The Windplanners showed the board an image from Manwell's team that showed wind speeds as an overlay on an aerial photograph of the campus. Based on the information represented in that image, the Windplanners proposed moving the turbine site from a location to the southwest of the athletic track to the northeast of the track.

Mays questioned that projection as well.

"My guess is that the model probably only had terrain heights and not buildings or trees," Mays said. "I think the modeling is flawed, and that if the Windplanners were to rely on its predictions they would be worse off than using their own experience and intuition."

Postdoctoral graduate student Utama Abdulwahid has been the UMass lab's lead researcher for the Camden Hills project. He said May 6 that his team took into account all buildings and all of what he called surface roughness within one kilometer of the site. Surface roughness refers to terrain features such as fields, trees and open water, Abdulwahid said.

In response to Mays' contentions that the UMass researchers may have been rushed in their conclusions, Manwell said, "We've been working on this since January. This is not a major project. The effort involved was securing data available elsewhere and then setting up a computer program. Things like that don't actually take that long."

"The data didn't change," Manwell said. "We used the same data for the longer term projections." He said the new location had more wind than that shown in two years of data collected at the original site.

While Manwell and Mays both stated that the Camden Hills site was not among the windiest in the world, Manwell said it was important to consider why the Windplanners wanted to install the turbine in the first place. He said the economics of photovoltaic panels were probably worse than those of the Windplanners project.

"It's not going to make them a lot of money, but it should be a great experience for them," Manwell said.

Students raise funds to pay for turbine

When it comes to money, the Windplanners have been busy raising funds for the project, which they estimate will cost $510,000. That cost is broken down as follows.

  • Northwind 100 turbine and controls $380,000
  • Transportation to site $10,000
  • Engineering and permitting $20,000
  • Electrical components $15,000
  • Site work, foundation and installation $55,000
  • Electrical contractor $25,000
  • Startup and commission $5,000

 

In addition to the costs of purchase and installation, the Windplanners estimated an annual maintenance budget of $3,500, which they said could be paid from the savings the school would realize in lowered electricity costs.

To date, the group has raised $211,000 from a variety of sources including the Maine Community Foundation, The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, and private and anonymous contributors. One donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has offered up to $200,000 in matching funds, about $35,000 of which have already been used.

The Windplanners said some of the donors had specified that they would only support the project if the turbine were installed on the high school campus, where it would be seen by members of the local community and provide educational inspiration to students.

Manwell said the choice of the Northwind 100 was a good one.

"The Northwind 100 has a reputation of being a very rugged and very quiet turbine," he said. "It works under very difficult conditions." He said he had visited one in Alaska and its design, which does not include a gearbox, makes it quieter and less prone to mechanical problems than other turbines. The Northwind 100 carries a two-year warranty.

Northern Power Systems offers educational tools for schools that install their systems. According to the Web site at northernpower.com, the turbine's "permanent magnet direct drive technology maximizes energy capture and outperforms conventional gearbox designs."

While some board members expressed concern about the space required for the turbine and its maintenance, all praised the Windplanners for their hard work in researching and planning the installation, as well as the effort they have made to raise funds for the project.

The tower will be 121 feet tall, with a blade diameter of 69 feet.

"It will definitely not obstruct any field use," said science teacher and Windplanners adviser Margo Murphy. She said a model exhibited at the board meeting showed how the turbine would fit in at the site.

"The tower base is 9 feet and can be grassed right to the base," she said. "It will be right near our new orchard between the track and the field hockey field."

The final vote, to approve the continued fundraising, purchase and installation of the Northwind 100, was unanimous.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.

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