KNOX – Mick Womersley shuffled carefully across the pipes, 40 feet in the air, his body and hard hat silhouetted by the falling sun. With one final reach, he began his descent and the small, black pods with which Womersley had been working began spinning furiously in the afternoon breeze.
Back on the ground, Womersley looked up at the small anemometer and wind vane he had installed, dozens of feet below the whirring 31-foot blades on Wes Kinney’s 100-foot tower on Knox Ridge, and he thought about the future.
“I love the sound of a wind turbine,” said Womersley, a professor at Unity College and sustainability expert. “That this is just sitting there, cleanly producing power and it’s home grown. It’s a Maine resource.”
The anemometer and wind vane Womersley finished installing on Thursday afternoon will deliver data that will be recorded over the next few months. The information will be crucial as Maine School Administrative District 3 decides whether to become the first district in the state to add a wind turbine of its own.
The district is expected to break ground this spring on a new school that will serve pre-kindergartners through 12th-graders.
Last spring, the school’s board of directors gave Coastal Enterprises, Inc. of Wiscasset permission to conduct a feasibility study on behalf of the district to determine if it can harness wind to help offset electricity costs and perhaps even turn a profit.
“There are only certain locations and situations around the state where wind turbines can work,” said Stephen Cole, director of natural resources and sustainable communities for Coastal Enterprises. “You need a place with pretty high and sustained winds. The circumstances of Mount View building a new school on a ridge with good wind capacity made it seem like a good testing ground.”
Located in Thorndike, the Mount View school complex is visible from Kinney’s farm approximately a quarter of a mile away.
Judging by his naked eye, Womersley estimated the ridge on which proposed wind turbine would sit is at least as high as the spot where Kinney’s turbine has stood for more than 20 years.
Winds must average at least 14 miles per hour over the course of a year to meet the minimum requirements of most turbines, Womersley said. There cannot be too many lulls, nor too many gusts.
“There’s plenty of wind here,” he said. “Nobody’s really worried about having enough wind.”
Kinney’s windmill, which was installed at the farm in the mid 1980s, produces up to 20 kilowatt hours and serves his entire farm. His electric bill last month was $91. When the turbine is not in use his bill ranges from $250 to $450, Kinney said.
The turbine proposed for the district would probably produce about 1.5 megawatts. The district would qualify as a small power plant, allowing it to sell excess electricity.
“I think the wind mill’s a good idea,” Kinney said. “I miss it when it’s not running. You have the investment and you have the income coming in, so you have to balance it out.”
That is exactly what the school board plans to do once the feasibility study is complete, said Barbara Rado Mosseau, superintendent of MSAD 3.
In addition to studying the wind data, the study will include an overview of permits the school would need, and what grants are available to help cover the installation expense, which Cole estimates could run as high as $500,000.
So far the district has spent nothing. Coastal Enterprises, a private, non-profit community development corporation, received a $60,000 grant from the Massachusetts-based Jessie Cox Charitable Foundation to conduct the study.
“This is just a feasibility study,” Mosseau said. “I believe the board is very, very interested in all kinds of options that are energy efficient and sustainable. The cost of doing that is another issue. That’s something the board would have to consider.”
The new school is expected to be completed by September 2009. The turbine project would be tied into the construction schedule to help reduce installation costs, Cole said.
There is still much to be done, however, before the turbine ever becomes a reality at the new school.
“We’re not quite there in crunching the numbers to know what the savings will be, but in the best of all possible worlds, we’ll be able to make the case that renewable energy makes good financial sense for the district itself,” Cole said. “It seems that’s the only way renewable energy products are going to be widely used, if you can demonstrate they are a practical investment.”
By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
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