Westport – Supporters and opponents of the Town Hall wind turbine have each been given new ammunition in their fight over whether to build a town-financed turbine. Data from a test tower built by Lees Market on the west side of Main Road shows better energy potential than first expected, but a report on small wind turbines says energy production estimates are often too optimistic.
The Board of Selectmen received both reports last week when it met to vote on a contract to build a 120-foot turbine behind Town Hall. No vote was taken on the contract, and the board will resume discussions tonight
A report last month by The Cadmus Group for small turbine projects receiving funding from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative said the overall performance of such turbines across the state has been “lackluster.”
“Based on our experience testing systems, the installers almost universally overestimate annual energy production. Often this overestimation is quite significant,” the report said. Exactly why the turbines have underperformed isn’t clear, the report said, but the results may be due to lower-than-expected wind speeds and greater-than-expected turbulence.
Wind maps in this area and Cape Cod may overestimate wind energy potential by 10 to 20 percent, the report said. The document calls for strengthening MTC grant requirements “to ensure that only the better sites receive funding.” The Westport turbine is expected to receive an MTC grant of up to $45,000 – nearly 75 percent of the $63,400 taxpayers will pay up front.
The type of turbine that would be built behind Town Hall – a Bergey 10 kilowatt – has had especially low performance, data showed, but no explanation was given.
The Lees Market report said a turbine of a much larger scale than what has been proposed for Town Hall would have the “potential for considerable financial benefit” either if Lees owns it or allows a third party to operate it.
Owner Al Lees said last month that a turbine of about 250 feet – the height of the Portsmouth Abbey turbine – would be cost-effective, but that the store is hesitant to pay roughly $2 million in upfront costs. Though the test tower is across Main Road, the turbine would likely be built in the parking lot behind the store.
Turbine supporters have used data from the test tower to support their argument a turbine behind Town Hall would produce enough energy to pay for itself.
Opponents have said wind speeds are higher across Main Road because there are fewer tall trees around.
Selectmen Chairman J. Duncan Albert, the swing vote on the board, said the reports won’t sway him much. “If anything,” he said of the Cadmus Group study, “it confirms what I already knew.”
The turbine was originally proposed to power Town Hall, but the latest plan calls for the device to connect to the Highway Department garage.
While the Lees test tower showed a turbine would work well for the store, a much larger turbine was suggested there, and the market uses more energy than Town Hall or the Highway Department garage, Albert said.
Members of the Alternative Energy Committee have said they are raising money privately to cover any additional costs to the turbine since the $63,400 bid was made more than a year ago. The money will come at least partially from a memorial fund set up for Robert Kowalczyk, a committee member who died last month.
By Grant Welker
Herald News Staff Reporter
18 May 2008
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