Does the wind speed in River Falls warrant placement of a big, permanent turbine to produce energy? Time – a year to be exact – will tell.
Alex DePillis, a wind monitoring engineer for Madison-based EcoEnergy Wind, is working with River Falls Municipal Utilities to erect a 199-foot-tall temporary wind-test tower on top of a hill in the Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park. The test structure will stand for a year and gather data that reveals if the area’s wind speed is enough to power a permanent tower.
If so, the plan includes constructing a 400-foot-tall permanent wind turbine on the hilltop spot that sits south of Highland Drive.
DePillis told the City Council at its last meeting: “I’m skeptical the wind power is there, but it’s worth looking at.”
His memorandum to the council explained: “The purpose of this 199-foot-tall temporary tower is to gather wind speed data which will be used to assess the feasibility of erecting a wind turbine to power local businesses and homes.”
DePillis said EcoEnergy’s next step will be signing a lease agreement for the tower site with the River Falls Economic Development Corporation. After that comes a building permit, then construction of the test tower, which takes about two days.
If a permanent structure proves feasible, building it would take about three months.
He said, “We think it could be possible to erect the test tower as early as mid-February (2008).”
DePillis added at the council meeting that if the yearlong test period didn’t reveal the necessary wind speeds to justify a permanent structure, EcoEnergy will disassemble the tower.
If EcoEnergy and RFMU decide to build a permanent wind tower, construction might happen sometime in 2010.
Mayor Don Richards asked DePillis about the difference in height between the test tower (almost 200 feet) and the permanent turbine (400 feet).
“We can use the 200-foot data to see what’s going on at 250, 300, 350 feet…,” DePillis said.
He added that erecting a 400-foot tower costs a lot and isn’t as economical as computer modeling the wind-speed data obtained from a 200-foot tester tower.
According to DePillis, if a permanent structure proves feasible and is eventually built, it would be a 1.5 megawatt turbine that could produce enough energy each year to power about 300 homes, based on the average consumption rate (10,000 kilowatts/year).
In comparison, he said River Falls’ hydroelectric facility produces enough energy each year to power about 170 homes.
If the tower is a go, EcoEnergy would fund the project with the expectation of entering into a long-term agreement for RFMU to buy back the electricity the wind turbine generates.
The test tower will cost about $30,000 including de-installation. The permanent turbine would cost $2.5 million-$3.5 million.
DePillis’ memo to the council talks about how the wind tower won’t interfere with land use and will likely share the hilltop with a water tower also planned for the site.
He says the tower wouldn’t impact adjacent landowners and that highway noise from nearby Hwy. 35 will mask the slight sound a wind turbine makes. The tower needs no parking, lighting, signage or electricity at the site.
A small, solar-electric panel powers the test-data collection device. If a permanent tower gets installed, it would run on the same voltage as the existing power lines, eliminating the need for a new transformer.
The test tower isn’t anchored with concrete. The tower uses an anchor made of a steel rod with a forged eye for the cable end and a helical plate below the ground, DePillis said. Utilities, for example, use the same kind of anchors for electrical poles.
A gravel road running up the hill from Highland Drive would provide access to the site.
Talks about a wind turbine here started after River Falls expressed interest in community-based wind power. WPPI produced computer models of the wind speed east and west of the city, which showed numbers that could equal a good wind resource.
DePillis commented, “For now, this project is all about getting 12 months of wind data in order to assess feasibility. It may turn out that a wind turbine doesn’t make sense in or near River Falls.”
“We’re in the business of providing sustainable, clean energy, and partnering with some very forward-thinking organizations like River Falls Municipal Utility and its power provider WPPI,” said the EcoEnergy wind engineer.
He said the company develops alternative energy solutions and is a unit of the Morse Group headquartered in Freeport, Ill. The 60-year-old Morse Group serves clients in the electrical, energy and construction markets nationwide.
DePillis said EcoEnergy personnel have constructed more than 1,400 megawatts of electrical
generation. He said the company supervised the 180-megawatt Tatanka Wind Farm that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.
“We’re very happy to be working with a community that clearly cares about environmental quality,” said DePillis.
By Debbie Griffin
17 January 2008
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