CRISFIELD – Funding for a wind energy system to power Crisfield’s sewage-treatment plant has gotten preliminary approval, but city officials still have work to do before they get the money.
After working on the project for the past three years, Mayor Percy Purnell said even conditional approval is a victory.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought we’d get this far,” he said.
In order to receive a $4.1 million grant through the Maryland Department of the Environment, the city must come up with specifications for potential bidders on the project by December, Purnell said.
An additional application for Community Development Block Grant funds to pay for land acquisition also has been approved, but first the city must prove that the 860 Somerset County Sanitary District customers living outside city limits, but who are served by the city’s sewer plant, are low- to moderate-income residents.
Purnell said the city, in cooperation with the sanitary district, will mail out letters and questionnaires soon asking for information that includes income range and the number of people living at each address. If the city can get the surveys completed in the required 60 days, then the city’s “got a shot” at the grant money, Purnell said.
Crisfield officials already have met with representatives of companies hoping to get a contract for the wind turbine, and they still have a few more to go, he said. Although the city opened bids from six companies last summer, the project has been slow in moving forward because of a lack of funding. Bids opened last year ranged from $4.7 million for a 1.5- megawatt turbine to $1.1 million for a 750-kilowatt model. Whatever model is selected, it could be a concern to officials at Patuxent River Naval Air Station who recently said turbines proposed for sites in Somerset County could interfere with radar at the St. Mary’s County facility.
The city wants to build a turbine – about 300 feet tall – on land next to the sewer plant to generate power for the plant. Additional electricity would power other city-owned buildings, such as City Hall, the police station and fire department, and also be sold back to the grid.
For several months, wind speeds in Crisfield were measured with an anemometer atop a city water tower. The 18- to 19-miles-per-hour average measured there is enough to sustain a wind farm.
Aside from the environmental benefits, wind power is expected to take a huge burden off the budget. After the city upgraded its sewage-treatment plant, electricity bills jumped from about $13,000 per month to $20,000.
In addition to the city’s plans to build a turbine, two companies have been working with Somerset County land owners in the hopes of installing wind energy systems on farms and other large tracts of land.
No large-scale turbines have been erected so far, because the county has not yet enacted an ordinance regulating commercial wind systems.
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