Is there something in the wind in the Pawtuxet Valley?
Over the past year, town officials in West Warwick and Coventry have weighed the possibilities of harnessing wind power for municipal uses.
In May, the West Warwick Town Council began a discussion with Portsmouth Power Company about installing three wind turbines on Arctic Hill.
Most recently, the Coventry Town Council hosted a wind power presentation by Roger Williams University professor Eleftherios Pavlides at its Nov. 5 meeting.
Portsmouth Abbey has already put a wind power plan into action.
At the Portsmouth Abbey on Aquidneck Island, the historic New England landscape has changed. Cory’s Lane curves toward the Abbey, edged with stone walls and russet oak trees, but, in the distance, beyond the tree line toward Narragansett Bay, rises a solitary wind turbine.
Installed in early 2006, the turbine powers 40 percent of the Abbey’s energy, providing electricity for the 15 Benedictine monks and 350 boarding school students who live there, according to Brother Joseph Byron, the Benedictine monk who oversees the care of the grounds. On especially windy days, the school sells power back into the electric grid, he said.
Byron, who is also a drama teacher at the school, has become an expert on wind energy over the past three years, as the school has responded to the heightened oil prices and installed its own turbine.
Since the turbine went online, Byron said, he has received school groups, tourists, and curious journalists, as well as several inquisitive robotics teams. He takes them to stand beneath the 77-foot carbon fiber blades, looking up the 164-foot trunk of the machine and listening to the gentle sound of the blades turning.
Byron compares the sound to “wind in the trees, the ocean, or a dishwasher in the next room.”
“The windmill has been hugely successful,” Byron said. “It’s very popular in the surrounding area.”
At first the school was apprehensive about attempting the windmill installation, Byron said, given its scenic location. Byron said school officials went door to door inviting neighbors to weigh in.
“Virtually every neighbor was for it,” Byron said. One neighbor was very opposed, but after the turbine went in, Byron said, he changed his mind.
The Portsmouth Abbey windmill is the only one in the state. It is estimated to generate about 1.2 million kWh of clean electric energy every year.
Surprisingly, considering its success and its coastal location, the wind turbine is in an area that is only moderately windy. According to wind-mapping done by the Providence Plan, the location is only slightly windier than Kent County.
The West Warwick proposal was to build three module power towers on Arctic Hill, near the high school, where the Providence Plan Windmapper shows wind levels close to those in Portsmouth. The goal was to generate enough power from a single tower to power the middle school, high school, ice rink and civic center.
But Town Manager Wolfgang Bauer said plans to install wind turbines have not been pursued. While the council is not opposed, he said, Portsmouth Power Company has stopped communicating with the town.
In Coventry, Acting Town Manager Paul Sprague said the town is still “in the investigatory stages” for its project.
The proposed site for a potential wind farm is the former Picillo Pig farm, the location of illegal hazardous waste dumping 30 years ago, and now a foreclosed property belonging to the town. At 550 feet above sea level, Sprague said, it’s one of the highest points in the state.
The Windmapper shows the area to have moderate wind levels. Sprague said the town is working with Pavlides to develop a plan for a wind farm, either at the farm or another site, which would generate power to use at municipal properties and also sell back into the grid.
The town was also looking to incorporate algae pools into the wind farm to develop bio-diesel as another form of income and green energy for the town, Sprague said.
“We’re looking to get formal federal funding for the project,” he said, adding the town will be looking both at grants and partnering with a non-profit or for-profit investor.
Right now the council is focusing on educating the public and looking for the most viable location. In the spring, Pavlides will be leading a group of Roger Williams University students through research on putting wind turbines in Coventry.
By Hannah Clarkin
23 November 2007