Windmills may be more plentiful and produce power more readily in the vast stretches of California and Texas than in Connecticut, but several towns remain undeterred in their search for cheaper energy.
Some local officials, fed up with the rapidly rising cost of power, are considering zoning law changes to permit wind power turbines. It’s the latest move by officials in Canaan, Goshen, Harwinton, Thomaston and Watertown to find less costly alternatives to heat schools and town office buildings.
“All of it is causing people to rethink how they want to fuel their cars as well as heat their homes and generate electricity,” said Richard M. Lynn Jr., planning director of the Litchfield Hills Council of Elected Officials.
Canaan Selectman Thomas Gailes is spearheading an effort that could bring a wind turbine to a hilly spot near the town’s transfer station. It could generate enough power to reduce the $86,000 cost last year to heat the town’s elementary school.
Unlike alternative technologies such as solar and geothermal, wind power has significant challenges. For example, wind is not as abundant or consistent in Connecticut as in other parts of the country such as California and Texas or even in areas in Massachusetts.
“The reality is Connecticut doesn’t really have any places that are really suitable for cost-effective windmills,” said Joseph Swift, who works on alternative energy projects for Connecticut Light & Power.
Swift said most of the state is rated “poor” by the U.S. Department of Energy for wind power. Some areas in Connecticut’s northwest hills and along the shore are rated “marginal” and could support small wind installations.
CL&P and United Illuminating say commercial wind projects do not operate in the state, but some smaller projects such as a small turbine powering a single home or small business, might exist.
Zoning regulations and environmental concerns also present challenges. The aesthetics and environmental impacts of the enormous towers with huge spinning blades sometimes provokes opposition from residents even if they back renewable energy alternatives.
Canaan’s first step is to put up a test turbine that will measure the strength, speed and consistency of wind. The test turbine is about 196 feet tall and cost $30,000.
Technology also could ease the introduction of wind turbines to areas where none now exist. Optiwind, a venture capital-backed startup company in Torrington, is developing a compact wind turbine that could generate energy even in Connecticut’s low winds.
Typical wind turbine blades that extend 60 feet, but Optiwind’s blades extend about 16 feet. The more compact units are designed to reduce noise generated by the blades and how the blades flicker the light.
Birds and bats also have been killed by blades and the enormous towers can cause interference with cell phone and TV reception.
In Canaan, Gailes is investigating alternatives that would bypass testing and get a turbine erected soon.
“We know there’s wind. We know where the wind is,” he said. “Why don’t we go directly to putting up a turbine?”
Information from: Sunday Republican: http://www.rep-am.com
7 July 2008
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