A forum to address the public’s questions and concerns about the new 2-megawatt wind turbine the University of Delaware has constructed in Lewes adjacent to the Hugh R. Sharp Campus was like taking a crash course in wind-energy technology.
More than 100 people, most of them Lewes homeowners or from the surrounding area, asked the questions at the Aug. 12 meeting. Those supplying answers were Jeremy Firestone, University of Delaware (UD) marine policy expert; Willett Kempton, UD marine policy; Dave Strong, Sustainable Energy Developments Inc., senior project manager; and Nancy Targett, dean of the university’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment.
A brief history
Targett said in March 2008, the university began to study the possibility of constructing a wind turbine near the Lewes campus. She said in June 2009, that after conducting wind-speed studies and having thought about whether the plan made sense, officials deemed the project feasible.
What and who
Tom Mandle, a Gills Neck Road resident, wanted to know if the wind turbine had been custom made for the university.
“No, it’s a standard design, but it is the first of its kind in the country,” said Firestone, adding that several hundred similar units have been operating in Europe for some time.
He said the Lewes turbine is built to generate electricity at relatively low wind speeds. Firestone said although the turbine is still in its break-in period, it is powering the campus, producing about 1 megawatt, half of its maximum output.
Homeowner Gerry Lichliter lives on Harbor View Road in Lewes. He asked why the university formed a limited liability corporation – an LLC.
Firestone said Gamesa, the wind turbine manufacturer, and Blue Hen Wind Inc. a private organization created by the university to hold its shares, are joint owners of First State Marine Wind LLC.
Responding to questions about insurance, Firestone said the university has insured the wind turbine under a rider, but said he didn’t know details of the policy.
Wind turbine syndrome?
An alleged illness known as wind turbine syndrome has been a complaint voiced by some who live near the devices. Dr. Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician, is credited with coining the name. Symptoms include headache, anxiety, dizziness and insomnia. Pierpont claims low-frequency sound, the swishing sound made by the blades, and shadow flicker associated with the devices also contribute to wind turbine syndrome.
Did the university address wind turbine syndrome? Targett was asked.
“Yes. As a 26-year resident of Lewes, I made sure the university did its due diligence,” she said.
Supposed wind turbine syndrome symptoms are said to be the same as those the general population experiences as caused by the stresses of daily life.
But Firestone said Pierpont’s study, which is most frequently cited, is flawed. He said her data came from only 10 families she selected and interviewed by telephone.
Firestone said Pierpont’s study did not include data on the degree of exposure; did not use a control group, people who had not lived near wind turbines; was self-published and did not undergo peer review, evaluation by professionals with expertise in the field.
He said chief medical officers in Canada and Australia who read Pierpont’s findings concluded “no scientific evidence to support wind turbine syndrome.”
Firestone said sound experts concluded Pierpont’s “understanding of audio is poor.” He said the university has not done an audio study of the area since the turbine has been installed but, he said, the device is quieter than background, ambient sound, even under worst-case conditions.
Targett asked those who live near the wind turbine to make a note of when they perceive something bothersome. She said information on as many variables as possible – time of day, location, temperature, wind direction and any other pertinent data – could help the university pinpoint a source and possibly mitigate it.
Janice Pinto, a Rodney Avenue resident, said she likes the aesthetics of the turbine but said, “It’s somehow less beautiful when it’s in my backyard.” Pinto said when the wind is blowing out of the southwest, she hears a sound that’s “like a jet that won’t land.”
Dave Strong, Sustainable Energy Developments Inc. senior project manager, said the Gamesa wind turbine uses advanced technology that significantly reduces noise it emits.
Strong said one of the first wind turbines in the country was installed in Kentucky. “It was so loud that it shook cups off the wall a mile away,” he said.
Strong said the faster the turbine’s blades spin, the more noise it makes. But, he said, even at its top speed, noise emitted by the turbine does not exceed established limits.
He said Tech Environmental Inc. late last year conducted an acoustic study of the area. He said the company placed microphones around the area and recorded the natural, ambient sound. Strong said the home closest to the turbine is 2,000 feet away, and without going onto private property a microphone was placed near it.
He said tests indicated turbine noise would be well under established maximum limits.
“This does not mean that people are not hearing the turbine, but it’s still quieter than background sound,” Strong said.
Tower height exemption
Lewes homeowner Christine Thomas asked why the city had not required the university to seek a height variance to erect the turbine’s 256-foot tower.
Mayor Jim Ford said the city determined that a variance was not needed. “It’s an energy transmission tower and it’s exempt from the building code,” Ford said. He said because the city’s building code doesn’t specifically address such towers, there was no basis for a variance.
Lewes homeowner Bill Poulterer asked whether the university had its eye on 260 acres adjacent to the turbine site.
“That land is very important to the community. It’s not there for the university to buy,” Poulterer said.
Firestone said the university has conveyed the land to the state but retains legal control of an easement. He said the wind turbine was erected in a dredge spoils area because it was determined that’s where it would have the least environmental impact. He said Beach Plum Island had been considered as a site for the turbine.
Concerns about wildlife, especially fatal bird strikes, have been addressed by using data gathered at a wind turbine site in Atlantic City, N.J.
“We have no reason to believe there will be any impact other than three to seven bird strikes a year,” Firestone said. He said the university has not investigated whether there have been bird strikes at its turbine.
The Rev. Tom Flowers of Smyrna asked if the wind turbine would help lower the cost of electricity. He said requests from those in the community for help paying the electric bill totaled more than $43,000 last year.
Willett said as more renewable energy sources come on line, lower electric bills could result.
“We don’t think this is a static situation,” Willett said.
Willett said the wind turbine is producing power for about 10 cents a kilowatt-hour. Ken Mecham, Lewes Board of Public Works general manager, said a similar board of electric customer would pay about the same amount.
After hearing many of the questions and answers, comments and complaints about the wind turbine, Michael Krausz, a Lewes resident for 35 years, said to the applause of many, “I think this is a fabulous contribution to the community.”