High school turbine gets town approval

By Shlomit Auciello | Dec 23, 2010
Courtesy of: Northern Power Systems The Northwind 100 turbine operates by using magnets, rather than gears, to generate electricity.

Rockport — A group of students at Camden Hills Regional High School has come one step closer to harvesting electrical energy from the winds that range across the region.

The Windplanners group of about 25 students filed a permit to install a 100kw wind turbine on the Rockport campus on Nov. 19, after meeting Nov. 8 with town Planner and Community Development Director Tom Ford. With the help of Camden Hills Operations and Maintenance Director Keith Rose, the students filed their permit application later that month and on Dec. 9 met with Ford, Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford and Select Board member Tom Farley in a meeting with abutters.

One neighbor came to that meeting and expressed concerns about possible noise the turbine might generate along with electricity.

Science teacher Margo Murphy advises Windplanners. She said Dec. 23 that the group agreed to conduct some noise experiments, but that the design of the Northwind 100 meant that it would probably make less noise than a lawnmower.

"The turbine is rated at a noise level below the [town's] noise ordinance," she said. "We decided to run lawnmowers and get a decibel level, and also will go to [the neighbor's] house to see if we can detect the turbine's sound."

Murphy is confident about the volume of sound from the Windplanners' turbine because, unlike any other windmill in Maine, it uses a magnetic direct drive instead of a gearbox.

"Every turbine in the state has metal moving against metal," she said. This is magnets that will produce the electricity, so it's much quieter in terms of the nacelle itself. The noise you hear will just be the blades moving. There are trees and leaves moving when you have wind. It will also mean that vibrational energy will be much less."

The Windplanners' application to the town was approved, and on Wednesday, Dec. 22 the permit was presented to the group.

"We hope to break ground in the next couple of months," Murphy said.

Education is key to plan

Northern Power Systems, manufacturer of the Northwind 100, offers educational tools for schools that install their systems. According to the website at northernpower.com, the turbine's "permanent magnet direct drive technology maximizes energy capture and outperforms conventional gearbox designs.

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

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 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.

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.

At a May 5 meeting with the Five Towns Community School District Board of Directors, 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.

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 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.

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.

Fundraising in final stage

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.

"We're in the final phase of fundraising and hope to close the gap before the new year," Murphy said Dec. 22. "We're working on a major donor campaign with the Friends of the CSD and also applying for major grants and seeking in-kind donations. We're about $100,000 away, but we have a matching donor who will match up to $200,000, so that cuts that need in half." That donor wishes to remain anonymous, she said.

"Everything we've made in the last 14 months has been matched by that donor," she said. Early support came from a variety of sources including the Maine Community Foundation, The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, and private and anonymous contributors.

Once the money has been raised, Murphy said, the group will break ground. Patrick Ouillette of Novel Engineering in Camden will work with Larkin Enterprises to install the Vermont-made nacelle and other U.S.-made parts, and student interns from the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Wind Project will assist.

"We're also inviting local people who want to get their hands dirty on this job to get involved," Murphy said.

Information about Windplanners can be found at the website at www.fivetowns.net/windplanners. For more information contact Murphy at margo_murphy@fivetowns.net or Rose at keith_rose@fivetowns.net.

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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