HAMPTON – Small windmills will likely start popping up around the Seacoast as Unitil Corp. tests new ways to produce energy.
The local power company installed its first windmill two weeks ago off Route 101 near Hampton Beach as part of a pilot project to assess the effectiveness of wind energy.
The company is now looking to place as many as 10 to 15 additional windmills atop utility poles around the Seacoast and in Massachusetts, said Unitil CEO Robert Schoenberger.
The windmills, commonly referred to as wind turbines, will be tested for a period of three to six months. One windmill can produce enough energy to power a single home. The goal, Schoenberger said, is to see how well the small-scale turbines perform before Unitil looks at a larger wind energy production program.
“Before we make a big investment we want to take some baby steps,” he said.
Unitil wants to position the turbines in different locations as a way to test various wind regimes. Schoenberger did not identify the locations for the additional turbines as the company is still mapping out its plan. However, he insisted that Unitil will meet with local officials to discuss the plan and proposed site before a turbine is installed.
Local communities served by Unitil include Brentwood, East Kingston, Exeter, Greenland, Hampton, Hampton Falls, Kensington, Kingston, Newton, North Hampton, Seabrook, South Hampton and Stratham.
Schoenberger said he is confident the pilot project will lead Unitil into a new era of renewable energy production. The company is working to meet a state mandate requiring electric utilities to draw on more renewable energy sources in the future.
“We fully expect this will work,” said Schoenberger, who described the turbines as “unobtrusive.”
Schoenberger said Unitil is the first utility in the country to test a small wind turbine on a power system. Other utilities use much larger turbines.
The wind turbines being used by Unitil are produced by Arizona-based Southwest Windpower. The cost to purchase and install a turbine can run up to $15,000, according to Miriam Robbins, Southwest Windpower’s marketing manager.
The turbines, known as the Skystream 3.7, went on the market a year ago. While small residential wind turbines is not a new concept, Robbins said the Skystream model is different in that it can easily be connected to an electrical grid.
The turbine, which has three fiberglass blades measuring six feet in length, feeds into an electric meter. Robbins said a home will first take its power from the turbine, and when more energy is needed it will pull from the meter.
The average home uses between 900 and 1,200 kilowatt hours of electricity a month, Robbins said. The average wind turbine produces 400 kilowatt hours a month.
Southwest Windpower has sold about 900 wind turbines to customers this year across the country, including some in Maine and Massachusetts.
“More people are finding this is an option to reduce electric bills,” she said.
By Jason Schreiber
13 September 2007
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