Can Barrington handle a wind turbine? According to Richard Asinof, chairman of the Barrington Wind Power Exploratory Committee, the answer is a confident yes – “the committee reached a clear consensus,” he said. The committee members proceeded to prove their point through an hour-long presentation to the Barrington Town Council on Monday night that culminated several months of research.
Their findings were that Barrington could sustain a turbine at five locations in town – Barrington High School, Barrington Middle School, the Legion Way pump station, the DPW building and town hall – at a start-up cost ranging from $1.2 million to $1.4 million. Depending on the site, a turbine could produce a simple payback of those costs in 11 to 13 years, according to the committee’s data.
The more important question, however, is if the town council wants one.
According to council president Jeff Brenner, the answer to that is less clear.
“That’s not the point where we’re at,” he said. “We have to decide if it even makes sense to move forward [with an investigation].”
In other words, residents shouldn’t worry that they’ll wake one morning to find a 200-foot wind turbine outside their window. By the committee’s estimates, even a small to medium sized turbine would take as many as two years to implement. After Monday night’s presentation, the council didn’t even choose to vote whether to go forward with the study, opting instead to continue the issue to its July meeting.
But the committee’s early optimism in the project may indicate that Barrington at least has a chance to be one of the first towns to turn to wind power to reduce energy costs (the next closest turbine is on the Portsmouth Abbey campus in Portsmouth).
Since March, the exploratory committee has met on a regular basis, eventually splitting into four subcommittees addressing separate topics: Turbine siting, engineering and technical data, cost equations, and stakeholder matters.
They reached the conclusion that despite Barrington’s moderate wind levels – “conservatively” estimated to be 5.5 meters per second – a wind turbine could be effective if placed near an electrical “load,” or energy-consuming facility.
The high school subsequently proved to be the most efficient location based on those criteria. A medium-sized turbine about 230 feet tall with an output of 850 kilowatts, for example, could produce a value of $.105 per kilowatt per hour. That may not seem like much, but multiplied by the turbine’s kilowatt output and spread across an entire year, it could save the school thousands in electricity costs, as well as put energy back into the grid.
The committee admitted that more research was needed to address a number of lingering problems, however, not the least of which that the two prime sites – the high school and middle school – are close to gathering areas for people. Other potential problems include falling ice in the winter, noise and shadow flicker.
Paying for the turbine could get pricey as well, though the cost equation subcommittee found that long-term bonding could suffice (committee members also expressed hope that a potential renewable energy bill could enable wind power users to gain credits for excess electricity that could be applied to other loads in town).
According to committee members, however, the short-term cost may eventually be eclipsed by the savings achieved in a costly electricity market.
“[Wind power] could create substantial savings over the life of the turbine,” said Mr. Asinof, who added that a medium-sized turbine had a life span of roughly 20 years.
The town council could make a decision on whether to continue the wind power study at its next meeting on July 9.
By Scott O’Connell
8 June 2007
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