State officials are exploring whether they can site a wind turbine at the state correctional facility in Gardner, the second such project now under consideration in the city.
“Gardner seems to have a consistent, steady wind speed,” said Jeffrey J. Quick, director of the state Department of Corrections’ resource management division, in an interview. “So far this looks very promising. This is a very doable project.”
Testing at the site is into its 10th month and early returns indicate the average wind there is more than the six meters per second officials believe is needed to sustain the project. Quick said his office is considering a turbine as large as two-megawatts – a utility-scale project – that would produce much, if not all, of the prison’s electricity.
In North Central Massachusetts there are a handful of ongoing wind energy developments in various stages, including one at Mount Wachusett Community College, which is located near the state prison.
A year of testing at the college has also indicated there’s sufficient wind for a turbine, and more comprehensive feasibility studies for both projects may finish early next year.
The Department of Corrections is working on the turbine with a program in the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs that’s pushing for more renewable energy projects at state facilities.
Eric Friedman, the director of that program, “Leading by Example,” said a prison actually lends itself to wind development if there’s enough of the resource on-site.
“They’re generally not right next to people’s homes, and there’s a stable and large electricity load,” he said in an interview. “Wind tends to generate more electricity at night, when it’s windier and for an office building that’s not good, but for a prison it is” because “electricity demand is happening all 24 hours.”
Friedman added the project would be used just for the facility to offset electricity taken from the grid, not to sell wholesale power.
“The economics are much more favorable when you’re using the power you’re generating. Essentially, you’re offsetting your cost of electricity,” he said. “Whereas if you sell back into the grid, you’re selling at a much lower, wholesale rate.”
The prison now uses an average of 900,000 kilowatts per month, according to Quick. He said because the site slopes upward the turbine could be located above the surrounding landscape so it captures “clean,” or wind that isn’t disturbed by structures that might block its path.
There are about 1,000 inmates and 350 employees at the Gardner site, formally known as the North Central Correctional Institution, according to DOC spokesperson Diane Wiffin.
Additionally, Friedman said, developing the correctional facility and MWCC campus together could help reduce installation and construction costs, and make their projects more attractive to turbine suppliers. There’s a supply shortage on the market now, leading to project delays, he explained.
By Aaron Wasserman
18 October 2007
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