PORTSMOUTH – The wind-power phenomenon is hitting Aquidneck Island in full force.
On Thursday night, the Portsmouth Board of Review is scheduled to hear a proposal to build a 42-foot-tall tower in a section of open field off East Main Road – a structure applicant Donald Mosher said could produce enough energy every month to power an average-size home.
If approved, Mosher said the Skystream wind appliance would be the first of its kind for the island on property zoned for residential use.
The plan needs a special-use permit from the review board, because of its location on residential property, and a variance because it is 7 feet higher than the maximum allowable building height in that zone.
Following the success of the turbine at Portsmouth Abbey School, Mosher’s idea is the latest local project looking to harness wind power to help reduce the reliance on utility companies for power.
“This entire island has a strong affiliation with wind power and it’s great that we can look at bringing back that technology in a modern form,” Mosher said. “I think people are tired of not having control over their utilities and what they pay for them and this will give them an opportunity to have some say.”
The tower, which is proposed to stand on a portion of the 21-acre field at 184 Glen Road owned by the Bonome family and next door to Tom’s Lawn and Garden shop, would look like an oversized pinwheel, Mosher said.
The monopole supporting the tri-blade structure would be made out of steel, with the blades formed from a composite material. All the operational systems – or the “guts” of the machine – are self-contained within the unit, he said, and there are no guide wires to hold the tower in place.
The structure wouldn’t be visible from Glen Road, Mosher said, only from East Main Road near the lawn and garden shop.
Mosher said his firm Southern New England Wind Power shies away from using the term “wind turbine” to describe the Skystream because that conjures up images of the 164-foot-tall structure at the Abbey, which is nearly four times taller than the one he is proposing.
“We don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea here because what we’re looking to do uses the same concept as the one at the Abbey, but is nowhere close to the size and scope of that project and it’s not in the middle of a neighborhood,” Mosher said. “We call it a wind appliance because it more closely matches putting in a furnace, a hot-water heater or a stove than anything else. When you look at it, it is an appliance more than anything else.”
This appliance is designed with safety in mind, Mosher said. For example, if wind speeds top 56 mph, he said the tower shuts down for 10 minutes before attempting to restart. It is built to withstand winds up to 140 mph, and if there is a power outage the structure stops running to prevent problems with the power grid, Mosher said.
From 40 feet away, he said the structure puts out about 45 decibels, or less than a normal conversation. The appliance has a 20-year life span.
Mosher said it takes about a week to erect the tower and have it up and running. Attempts to reach the Bonomes were unsuccessful.
“I think it’s what America is all about,” Mosher said. “Thinking outside the box and challenging the conventional thinking by bringing 21st-century technology to the economy. We’re still burning coal for power. We were doing that in the 19th century.”
During a typical month, Mosher said the appliance generates about 400 kilowatts of electricity. The average home in Rhode Island uses 586 kilowatts a month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
If the wind appliance produces more electricity than used by the Bonomes, Mosher said they have an opportunity to get a credit from the power company.
As for the cost of installation, Mosher didn’t want to specify the exact price, but said the wind appliance would cost “far less” than a new Toyota Prius. The hybrid sedan costs about $22,000.
“They’ll receive a credit if they produce more than they’re using,” Mosher said. “Really, the meter will spin backwards and they have the opportunity to use that credit for up to a year.”
A Portsmouth building official said this week that it’s the first time in recent memory – and possibly ever – there has been such a proposal for a residential property in town.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t interest in wind power in Portsmouth and around the region.
In November, local voters overwhelmingly approved a $3 million bond to build a new facility at the Portsmouth Middle School on Jepson Lane, with the plans likely going out to bond early next year. Supporters said it would help cut into the town’s power bills and essentially pay for itself.
Neighboring Middletown recently adopted temporary regulations governing such proposals that would allow wind turbines and similar structures in all use zones with a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Review.
The Middletown Town Council also instructed the Planning Board to take another look at its ordinances and come up with a more comprehensive plan to address wind turbines, including establishing height limits, fall zones and other matters, similar to regulations dealing with wireless communications towers. Town Planner Ronald M. Wolanski said that work is expected to be presented to the council by the spring.
This all comes at a time when published reports indicate that the state is considering a plan from a New York firm to put 235-338 wind turbines in the waters off Watch Hill, Block Island, Little Compton and Middletown. If approved, press reports said those turbines would be built within a few miles of the Rhode Island shoreline.
What: Portsmouth Board of Review.
Where: Town Hall, 2200 East Main Road.
Issue: Proposal to put up a 42-foot-tall tower to harness the wind off Glen Road.
By Matt Sheley
Daily News staff
19 December 2007
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