Barrington recommends Mass. company to build wind turbine
01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, October 7, 2008
BARRINGTON — The wind energy committee last night recommended that the town pay a Woburn, Mass., company to build and maintain an Elecon wind turbine at the end of Legion Way at a cost of about 10 percent below the $2.4-million limit set by the council.
“The proposal submitted by Lumus Construction Inc. represents the best buy for the town,” said members of the Committee for Renewable Energy for Barrington. “They meet our technical and financial requirements and have demonstrated their ability to perform the work on similar projects.”
The company is erecting a similar turbine in Newburyport, Mass.
The Town Council, at its meeting last night, voted to hold a workshop on the proposal later this month, probably at the high school. The exact date will depend on the availability of the auditorium.
“It’s going to take time, as a council, to digest all of this,” said Councilman John T. Lazzaro.
Critics of the plan continued to attack the turbine last night, even though the original proposal to put it at the high school is now off the table.
Ronald Russo, one of the most vocal opponents, charged that the Elecon turbine “is not a proven unit” and questioned Lumus’ experience for installing it. The company has yet to complete an installation in the United States.
Barrington has been moving quickly on the turbine proposal under the belief that it must issue bonds by the end of the year or risk losing a $2.1-million interest-free loan for the project from the Internal Revenue Service.
But last night, council members were told that the federal $840-billion economic bailout package passed by Congress and signed by President Bush last week appears to allow a one-year extension of that deadline, giving the town more time to consider the proposal.
David Baum, the chairman of the energy committee, said the Lumus bid is only good through the end of the year and a final price has not been negotiated.
The committee’s report is the result of months of deliberation and debate over the feasibility, safety and noise issues surrounding a turbine. The project was originally proposed for the high school, but the favored location changed to Legion Way next to Brickyard Pond when state law was revised to allow a town to generate energy at one site and realize the savings in another.
Lumus was the only company whose bid was below the $2.4-million threshold, although its offer included a below-the-limit price for a different turbine brand.
According to the committee’s report, the 292-foot-tall wind Elecon turbine generator (WTG) “has been used extensively in Europe and India for years. It has two speeds, maximizing its power generation capability in low wind conditions, while minimizing its sound profile.”
Russo challenged that statement yesterday, saying the company has produced very few units.
“Where is the track record of reliability? It’s not there,” he said.
Noise has been an issue at both proposed sites, with neighbors concerned that they will be subjected to a constant low drone, even though houses closest to the Legion Way site would be at least 1,000 feet from the structure.
One reason an Elecon unit was selected, according to the committee report, was that “it produces less noise overall than the comparable Vestas and Fuhrlander turbines. . . . One major contributor to the lower noise is the dual speed design. In low wind conditions, the Elecon WTG rotates at half the speed of the other WTGs.”
The committee predicted that “at the distances involved at Legion Way, indications are that the WTG would be virtually inaudible inside residences, even with the windows open.”
When it comes to hearing the turbine from outside, winds above 8 miles per hour will produce an increase in background noise. Waves on the surface of Brickyard Pond will scatter the noise of the turbine, the report predicted.
The blades would not spin at all when wind speeds dropped below 8 mph, which means the turbine would generate no noise about 20 percent of the time, according to the report.
Russo said the fact that the unit needs at least 8 mph to function is, itself, a problem, and asserted that the Elecon unit is not very efficient at low speeds. He suggested that it might be better to have a German unit that can generate power with winds as low as 3 miles per hour.
“If you’re going to spend $2.4 million of the taxpayer’s money, you have to make sure this is the right kind of unit” that will give a good return on the investment, Russo told the council.
Baum declined to respond to specifics of some of the objections last night, except to say, “My committee members and I don’t feel they were all perfectly correct.”
Another reason the committee said it was favoring the Legion Way site is economics.
“In the near term, the net savings at the high school site would be about 30 percent less than the numbers given for the Legion Way site, due to lower winds,” according to the report.
If built at Legion Way, the turbine should produce the equivalent energy of 1,333 barrels of oil each year, according to the report.
Even if the state Department of Education decides against financing part of the turbine, the unit should save $3.9 million over the next 20 years if energy prices increase by only 3 percent per year, say the authors of the report.
If energy prices rise 6 percent annually, the 20-year savings would be $6.3 million.
The actual increase over the last decade has been 9 percent per year.
Wind speeds have not been measured directly at either site; the estimates are based on computer projections, which critics have questioned.
That became an issue again last night, as council president Jeffrey Brenner said the group is going to need to decide soon whether to erect an instrument tower to get real-time wind measurements.
But one member of the committee cautioned that even the results from a test tower will not give conclusive findings because average wind speeds can vary from year to year. The committee used computer models based on 20 years of wind data.
The report says that operating costs for maintenance and insurance will be less than $20,000 per year.
Other conclusions from the Baum committee:
ICING: Although critics have contended that ice flying off the spinning blades would pose a serious hazard, the report says there has only been one injury from flying ice since 1975 “despite the fact that many of the world’s turbines operate in cold climates.”
The safe setback is 730 feet, so that should not be a problem for the Legion Way site, according to the report.
FLICKER: The spinning blades can produce annoying flicker on sunny days. “The Legion Way site would have only a few residences that may experience at most 12 hours per year [of flicker], and even less if vegetation blocks their view of the turbine,” the Baum team concluded.
WILDLIFE: Although there’s a potential for birds and bats being struck by the spinning blades, turbines actually kill only about 4 birds and 30 bats per year.
VISUAL POLLUTION: The turbine “will generally be visible only across relatively clear, open spaces,” said the committee, noting that the WPRO radio towers at 100 Acre Cove are 111 feet taller than the turbine.
The full report, along with supporting documents, is available at the committee’s Web site, BarringtonEnergy.com.