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Wind tower tests the breeze in Tiverton

TIVERTON – With wind power and a wind farm in mind, Tiverton is testing the wind at the town’s industrial park, as a new study released Monday shows overwhelming support in town for the concept.

Two competing approaches – wind and natural gas – toward the generation of electricity are now squaring off within sight of each other at the 177-acre park.

On Thursday, August 18, the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC), of which Tiverton is a member, erected a 197-foot galvanized steel meteorological tower (met tower) to measure wind availability, velocity, volume, direction, and constancy.

About 500 yards north of the tower site sits the 265 megawatt natural gas-powered electrical generating plant owned by Tiverton Power Associates, built in about 1996.

While no decisions have yet been made about whether to build a wind farm at the park, data-collection and assessment of the project’s feasibility proceed, against a backdrop of apparent public support.

Public opinion weighs in

On Monday night a public opinion survey of 7,600 town residents was made public and distributed to the town council that showed 83 percent, of the 960 residents responding, support the concept of building wind turbines in the industrial park. Only 11 percent oppose it, while 5.8 percent say they’re neutral.

The survey, conducted by EBEC during June and July using a questionnaire distributed with tax bills and posted also on the town website, solicited residents’ views about wind energy. Differing numbers of respondents answered the 10 questions asked. Overall a total of 990 questionnaires were returned. Study sponsors say that the survey was unscientific.

Of the 930 answering one question, about how informed they felt themselves to be about wind energy, 87 percent said they were well or somewhat informed, while 13 percent said they needed more information.

74 percent said they believed wind energy would be environmentally beneficial, while 5 percent felt it to be harmful (17 percent were neutral).

Of those who said they were familiar with the noise of a wind turbine (62 percent of a total of 954 respondents), 20 percent found it pleasant, 15 percent found it unpleasant, and 65 percent found it neither.

Visually, 35 percent (of the 967 respondents answering) found turbines attractive, while 15 percent felt the opposite and 51 percent said they were neutral. Only 13 percent of those answering the survey said the turbines would be visible from their residence, and of those, 66 percent said they would not be concerned, while 34 percent claimed they would be very or only somewhat concerned.

As for any possible risks to birds, 29 percent said they would be somewhat concerned, 9 percent said they’d be very concerned, while the great majority (62 percent) said they would not be concerned.

Responses to two other questions were more ambiguous: 49 percent supported wind turbines if there was no increase in electrical costs, but 32 percent said turbines would be worth a minor increase in electrical rates and 14 percent said a rate increase would be acceptable to deter climate change.

82 percent said they’d support wind turbines in the industrial park if electrical rate increases (if such were to occur) were offset by lower taxes or water bills.

Gathering hard wind data

Public opinion aside, however, met tower measurements about the wind itself, gathered over the next year, are a necessary prelude to any possible development at the park of the proposed $60 million wind farm, with multiple turbines to serve the nine communities that are members of the consortium. Once the data is collected the tower will be removed.

The tower, a ProMast 60, manufactured by Second Wind Systems, was paid for entirely by the EBEC under a grant, said Garry Plunkett, the town’s representative to EBEC.

The total cost of approximately $17,000 includes components, installation, labor and analysis of the data which will be regularly transmitted in the coming year directly from the tower to Applied Sciences Associates (ASA) of North Kingston.

ASA has been consulting with EBEC to determine the feasibility of the Industrial Park site for the proposed wind farm. Towns that are members of EBEC include Tiverton, East Providence, Barrington, Warren, Bristol, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Middletown, and Newport.

The tower is anchored with cables at four points by an array of 16 pre-formed two-ton concrete anchors, buried so they won’t slide. It is taller than the tower installed at Sandywoods a few years ago to test winds at that location for a wind turbine yet to be built.

Installation was a challenge, said Mr. Plunkett, because the Industrial Park site “is a glacial plain of stones. There’s ledge everywhere.” There are also wetlands, stone ridges, and huge boulders out there, he said.

A local contractor cleared the site, consisting mostly of scrub oak, Mr. Plunkett said.

“Wind energy is one of the only growing industries in this area at this time,” he said. “It’s one of the few industries people are willing to put money into.” Wind turbines have a small footprint, require no fresh water, and no sewer system, he said.