HARPSWELL – Wind atop the town’s highest point may not be as mighty as originally hoped.
That was the message this week from the University of Massachusetts Renewable Energy Research Laboratories (RERL), where researchers determined a proposed wind farm on the 200-foot ridge known as Long Reach may not be economically viable. The lab is expected to formally notify the Board of Selectmen this week.
The news could damage a proposal for a small wind farm project at Long Reach. The town had hoped to secure a year-long wind study at the site from RERL, which pays for such studies using grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. Town officials have previously expressed reluctance to fund a study, the cost of which is estimated between $25,000 to $35,000.
Resident Richard Newman initially proposed the study. He said Wednesday that he was disappointed with RERL’s decision, but remains determined to find other funding sources for the Long Reach study, and possibly, to ask the town to consider other locations.
“We’re disappointed, but not terribly surprised,” Newman said. “There was never any absolute assurance that the study would be conducted. I’m reasonably confident that there are enough private sources (of funds). It just may take a little more time.”
It remains to be seen if Harpswell officials will continue to pursue the project given RERL’s findings. Mary Knight, a member of the RERL pre-development team, said wind speed models showed the site to be a low-wind location. Knight said wind readings of 6.5 meters per second represent the low end to make a project economically feasible. Long Reach, she said, showed 6 meters per second (13 mph).
Knight said those readings don’t rule out the overall viability of wind turbines on Long Reach. But coupled with the cost of the project – estimated between $9 million and $12 million – a marginal wind source may make Long Reach unattractive to a private developer.
Although the turbines would be built on town-owned land, the original proposal was to lease the property to a developer who could afford the project.
She said developers tend to target locations with wind speed of 7.5 to 8 meters per second.
“Things do change,” Knight said. “As the price of energy goes up the economics look better on wind.”
Newman, who originally proposed the project after compiling wind readings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from nearby Brunswick Naval Air Station, isn’t completely convinced RERL’s readings represent the real wind capacity at Long Reach. BNAS, he said, is 4.5 miles north of Long Reach and showed high and low readings of 9.5 meters per second and 6.5 meters per second at 30 feet above sea level. With turbine hubs projected at 250 to 300 feet, he said, Long Reach could capture more wind.
“Typically speaking, the higher the tower, the better the wind,” Newman said.
Knight said readings from BNAS probably don’t accurately reflect the wind at Long Reach.
She also said she doesn’t believe RERL’s decision not to do the study has anything to do with Harpswell’s project being too small to compete for federal funding with other, larger proposals. RERL, she said, is focused on community wind – small-scale projects sought by municipalities.
Camden recently won a RERL wind study for a three- or four-turbine project atop 1,300-foot Ragged Mountain. Camden Town Manager Roberta Smith said she originally pursued the project to use wind to power the ski operations at the Camden Snow Bowl. Now, she said, the wind farm is part of Camden’s multi-pronged response to Gov. John Baldacci’s Carbon Challenge.
Other communities have joined Camden’s interest in wind power. Kittery’s Town Council this week voted to support a single-turbine project to power its transfer station. Cape Elizabeth is considering a similar proposal. Saco has already installed a windmill near its sewage treatment plant.
It remains to be seen if Harpswell has caught the wind-power fever.
Mitchell Field could be considered for a small wind farm, but Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said any interest in using the former U.S. Navy fuel depot should be generated by the Board of Selectmen.
The 119-acre site has been the source of much acrimony ever since the town took ownership several years ago. Residents recently adopted a visionary plan for the facility, including some mixed residential uses. The master plan proposes no zoning for wind turbines. Furthermore, any future proposal could meet significant resistance given the facility’s proximity to its neighbors.
Meanwhile, Newman said he plans to pursue the Long Reach site. He was scheduled to meet Thursday with Eiane to discuss his options.
By Steve Mistler
13 December 2007
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