Brian Driscoll doesn’t regard himself as a pioneer, rather a businessman using a natural resource.
When Driscoll switched on a 100-kilowatt wind turbine at his Phoenix Press printing facility in New Haven, little did he know that his decision to go with wind instead of another renewable will reveal him as a trailblazer in an emerging state market.
“I was really just looking for ways to reduce my monthly electricity costs,” Driscoll said.
With lower product prices, continued high electricity rates, improving technology and high-profile projects, Connecticut will embrace solar power’s cousin.
For today’s alternative energy use in Connecticut, wind power doesn’t rank. Solar is king; and fuel cells, co-generation systems and geothermal are more popular than wind.
Since 2000, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund contributed $530,915 to four wind projects. By comparison, the Clean Energy Fund gave $77 million to 189 solar projects.
“Connecticut is not an optimal wind state; but we do have some opportunities,” said Emily Smith, energy fund spokeswoman.
Without a large coastline exposed to open ocean, Connecticut doesn’t have the wind profile of Massachusetts or Maine and nowhere near the top states Texas and Iowa.
However, ridgelines and the coast along Long Island Sound with moderate wind speeds create ideal locations for turbines.
A major tripping point for Connecticut is its small size and dense population, leaving developers to require community approval not necessary in wide-open states. And Connecticut’s communities typically have been resistant to disruptions of the natural landscape.
When searching for a market for wind turbines, there are many factors to be weighed, explains Bob Chew, president of Alteris Renewables Wind Business. It’s a unit of Wilton-based Alteris Renewables is the Northeast’s largest installer of renewable energy equipment.
Chew’s ideal is a market with high wind speeds, high electricity prices, zoning favorable to turbines, favorable relationships with local utilities, and state and local support.
Connecticut excels as a market because the electricity rates are very high, shortening the payback period. The state wind speed isn’t ideal, but areas such as Sterling, Stonington and Litchfield would generate enough power for substantial return on investment.
“We would have significant resistance from the community,” Chew said. “For community-scale wind farms, the industry in Connecticut is at a very small rate of growth.”
In order for wind power to generate more mass appeal in Connecticut, the price of installation and equipment needs to decrease, Chew said.
Worldwide prices for turbines are dropping. Because many large-scale projects are can’t find financing, the industry’s supply outweighs demand. That will drive costs down by as much as 15 percent for the next year, according to industry analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The lower prices improve wind’s competitiveness with natural gas, coal and nuclear as a means of generating electricity. Although wind development won’t immediately expand since the low prices are caused by manufacturers selling off their inventory, better pricing along with technological advancements will grow development over time.
“We do expect prices to remain favorable to development,” said Michael Hennessy, Bloomberg North America wind analyst.
The Phoenix Press wind turbine in New Haven cost $500,000 with the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund and the national American Recovery & Reinvestment Act contributing $336,000. Driscoll originally calculated the payoff period for the turbine as four years, although that’s reliant on the level of performance.
Driscoll’s first renewable plan was solar, but he balked at the high cost of improving his roof for the photovoltaic panels. He decided on a wind turbine after visiting a Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection air quality monitoring station and examining years of data for his property’s wind strength.
Since its March 8 commission data, the turbine performed as projected for spring but fell off in summer. Driscoll said the first few weeks of September picked up, but he’ll need a year of data to see if the four-year payoff holds true.
Beyond the energy savings, the publicity generated by the turbine brought Phoenix Press jobs from individuals and companies supporting sustainability.
“The printing industry is notorious for being dirty, and we are trying to be the opposite of that,” Driscoll said.
The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund contributed $222,000 toward pre-development of large-scale wind farms in Colebrook and Prospect. When completed, those projects drastically increase the state’s wind use.
To further wind’s popularity in the state, the Clean Energy Fund created the Small Wind Demonstration Project. Four sites in Coventry, Lebanon, Meriden and New Haven are demonstrating differing wind technologies to research what works best for Connecticut.
Wind technology is improving already as larger turbines produce more electricity and decrease the installed price per watt. If the technology and the costs of turbines continue to improve, the wind installation industry will be itching to move into Connecticut.
“Local electricity prices are very important when it comes to developing wind,” Hennessy said. “It lets the developers know how much they can get for the power they produce.
When wind turbines pop up all over the state, the Phoenix Press doesn’t care if it is regarded as one of the first users of the technology. Instead, the company wants the most out of the alternative energy. After two years with its 100-kilowatt turbine, if Driscoll is happy with its performance, he said he will install another one.
The 100-kilowatt wind turbine at Phoenix Press in New Haven is one of two projects in the state completed with money from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.
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