It sounds like a great idea: Build turbines to harness the energy of the wind and use the renewable, “green” power source to reduce the state’s dependency on fossil fuels.
If only it were that simple.
Even as energy experts say the Northeast has great potential for the development of wind energy, they acknowledged last week that Connecticut is not a major part of that optimistic picture. The state does not have a high potential for wind-generated electricity off-shore, and that other sources, including solar, make more sense to pursue, at least in the short term.
Nonetheless, some small wind turbine projects are envisioned in various places in Connecticut, and the state’s power users eventually might benefit from wind-generated electricity transmitted here from neighboring states.
Right now, the only working commercial wind turbine in the state is at the Phoenix Press in New Haven, and the Connecticut Siting Council has only two applications pending, for projects in Prospect and Cornwall.
“We can only move forward, but there is no `silver bullet’ with wind power,” said Joe Blass, spokesman for Environment Connecticut. The advocacy group was a sponsor of a Dec. 1 report by the National Wildlife Federation that concluded that Connecticut has only “modest” potential to exploit that resource.
The study – at www.environmentamerica.org/reports – found the potential for more than 90 gigawatts of wind-generated power from the Atlantic Ocean off Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York, at least 38 gigawatts of which are commercially viable with present technology. And it is worth pursuing, the environmentalist said, because each gigawatt of off-shore wind power provides nearly as much electricity as a typical coal-fired plant. Swapping 52 gigawatts of power from coal with wind could remove emissions equivalent to 17.7 million cars, Blass said.
But generating much wind power off the Connecticut shore would be difficult, he said. “The Sound is relatively narrow, and most off-shore wind takes place at least 15 miles out,” Blass said. Virtually all of Connecticut’s coast is along the 20-mile wide Long Island Sound.
“Higher elevations get stronger winds, and the best topography for wind power is a broad, flat plain with nothing to impede it. We don’t have those in Connecticut,” he said, “but we do have ridge lines.”
And those ridge lines offer some hope for wind energy boosters.
The ridge lines along the hills that often follow rivers can provide a good alternative, experts said, and that is what BNE Energy Inc. of West Hartford is counting on in its two proposed projects. The 67.5-acre site on Route 69 near the Prospect-Bethany border has an elevation of 800 feet, and overlooks a watershed and reservoir.
“The property is unobstructed and overlooks a valley corridor approximately 300 feet below the ridge,” company officials state in their application to the siting council. “As the wind travels through the valley corridor over the reservoir and is forced up the ridge, it accelerates as it merges with higher altitude winds where the turbines will be located at more than 1,100 feet above sea level. The wind acceleration increases wind shear and wind power density, which in turn will improve the turbine performance.”
The two 1.6 megawatt units can meet 25 percent of the town’s residential energy needs, according to the filing. BNE hopes to have the necessary permits by May and have the Prospect wind project operating by the end of 2011.
Some town residents oppose the project because of the noise it could create and the impact on wildlife and on the views of the hillside.
That is going to be a typical reaction wherever wind turbines are proposed, said Henry D. Rotman, a retired United Illuminating Co. engineer who installed a wind turbine on his Milford farm in 1985.
“Politics today control the whole show, and aesthetics take precedence, sometimes when they shouldn’t,” said Rotman. “I don’t know if you’d ever get a wind farm approved in Connecticut. People will say it will kill the birds and destroy the view.”
Even Blass, of Environment Connecticut, said wind power development is a sensitive subject. “I’m not comfortable saying that one site is better than another one,” he said. “You’ve got to look at the environmentalist impact, and a turbine above your head can create a lot of noise. These have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”
BNE officials said that more birds are killed by crashing into windows and windshields than would be by its turbine blades, and its turbines would be no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator from 1,000 feet away. The company is seeking a declaratory ruling from the siting council, which would not require a public hearing.
Phoenix Press installed a 100-kilowatt wind turbine, visible from the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in New Haven, that supplies about one-third the electricity the business needs. Co-owner Kevin Driscoll said earlier that the 160-foot high turbine, erected in February will save his company $35,000 in electric bills each year.
The town of Fairfield is using a $50,000 Clean Energy Fund grant to study the feasibility of a wind turbine near the municipal landfill to generate electricity for the nearby sewage treatment plant.
WIND ENERGY ELSEWHERE
Southern Connecticut, especially lower Fairfield County, could benefit from the Hudson transmission cable that would improve access to Pennsylvania wind farms that is being developed by a Fairfield company, Power Bridge LLC, said Thomas Ivers, chairman of Milford’s Clean Energy Task Force. The Pennsylvania wind farms generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity and the cable would also create a corridor for the more than 20,000 megawatts of potential wind power in the upper Hudson River Valley to reach the grid.
Ivers knows about wind power close-up. From his family’s farm in Waymart, Pa., he can see the wind turbines that stretch for five miles along a ridge, feeding power to a prison in Scranton. Some of the wind power capacity provided by the utilities participating in the Connecticut Clean Energy Options program also comes from Pennsylvania.
The program allows Connecticut electric customers to pay a small surcharge to support clean energy made from renewable resources such as wind, hydro and methane. Customers who enroll continue to receive electric delivery service from their utility.
Rotman, the retired engineer, said that wind turbines in Long Island Sound would be feasible only if they were built tall enough to capture the prevailing winds. And that, according to a recently released survey done for the U.S. Department of Energy, would be pretty tall – at least 80 meters.
The DOE map shows a stretch of the shore east of New Haven and some isolated areas off of Milford, Stratford and Bridgeport that have average sustained winds strong enough to make the turbines commercially viable, at a height of 80 meters, or 262 feet.
Areas off of Point Beach and Laurel Beach in Milford, two of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods, would meet the criteria. Ivers said that he would like to see a wind turbine at Silver Sands State Park, that could provide power to the city’s Animal Control Department that is inside the park, and also to a nearby sewage pumping station.
“But other energy-related opportunities have been a lot more compelling,” Ivers said. This includes a fuel cell to power the Housatonic Wastewater Treatment plant. “That would be next, and the axiom with renewable energy is ‘don’t even think about it until you’ve done all of the reduction and conservation that you can.’ ‘
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