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Westport turbines blow in political winds

The town’s wind turbine consultant last night parried the thrust of critics’ assertions that his proposed windmills would be too low and ineffectively located in the parking lot behind Town Hall.

Newell Thomas of Lighthouse Electrical Contracting Inc. proposes wind turbines that stand 80 feet tall in the parking lot; Paul Gay, founder of Northeast Windpower Corp., a new Westport company that is now the distributor for Bergey Windpower Co., however, proposes a 120-foot wind turbine beyond the parking lot.

“Siting of small turbines is an inexact science and in many cases requires experience and the application of rules of thumb,” Mr. Thomas said in a letter to the Board of Selectmen.

He added, “When taken to the extreme, all turbines would be sited on 200-foot towers, significantly above any turbulence, in higher wind speeds. In the other extreme, no turbines should be sited below the tree line. There is a middle, practical height between the two extremes that presents an economical, practical height considering all … obstacles, zoning setbacks, maximum tower height restrictions, aesthetics and costs.”

A debate over the practicality, height, location and costs of proposals by selectmen and Police Chief Keith Pelletier for wind turbines to provide electricity to Town Hall and the Police Station is raging between two longtime political foes and their respective supporters: Selectman and former Conservation Commissioner David P. Dionne and Claude Ledoux, a former selectman and former conservation commissioner.

Mr. Gay’s study of the wind turbine proposals was unsolicited. Mr. Dionne and others in support of the renewable energy source see that study as politicizing and an obstruction to progress. Mr. Ledoux contended the independent study was necessary to blunt what he considered an ill-informed proposal and waste of taxpayers’ money.

The study by Mr. Gay challenged the amount of wind available at the site; the amortization of the $54,000, 10-kilowatt turbines, the amount of electricity produced and the amount of surplus electricity that could be sent to the grid to earn credits.

“In the face of these uncertainties, proceeding with an installation at this point would be a great risk of public funds,” Mr. Ledoux said yesterday in an e-mail to The Standard-Times. “It would make more sense to install a meteorological tower (recommended by Mr. Gay) at the Town Hall for a year and actually measure the wind speed.

“Given the substantial uncertainties that presently exist, we do not have enough information to know whether or not we are presently capable of doing it right. (I agree with) Selectman Rebello’s comment that Westport should not only be the first to install a turbine at a Town Hall, but we must also be the first to do it right.”

The approach favored by Mr. Ledoux and Mr. Rebello and their supporters is not necessarily the best route, Mr. Thomas said.

“Most sites are not ideal, but conform to rules of thumb which have been proven over time,” Mr. Thomas said.

“In the case of small turbines, the cost to do an extensive site analysis would be financially prohibitive, so rules of thumb are used. In many cases, these rules cannot be strictly adhered to due to financial, zoning or aesthetic reasons. In those cases, a system can be installed under less than ideal conditions with an understanding that the output may be less than expected, but still satisfactory.

“In other cases, trade-offs must be assessed and the best compromise can be selected. This is the case with the two turbines on the Town Hall property.”

By Joseph R. LaPlante
Standard-Times staff writer


27 February 2007