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Q&A: an overview of the Walmart wind turbines

OmniWind Energy Systems is proposing to install wind turbines on the light fixtures in the parking lot of the Lanoka Harbor Walmart.

The company has faced the Lacey zoning board several times now in attempt to receive variances in order to install the turbines. Lacey Patch has compiled a Q&A based on those meetings to help you better understand the issue.

Q: What is the Walmart wind turbine project?
A: OmniWind Energy Systems approached the Lacey zoning board in August. The company is proposing to install 10 wind turbines in the parking lot of the Lanoka Harbor Walmart. The turbines would be installed on new poles and foundations at the existing site of lighting poles at Walmart. The existing light fixtures will be reinstalled at the same height. Each pole would have multi-bladed fans resting on a rotatable device that allows them to turn to face the wind. The turbine, which has a life of 25 years, would be 8 feet in diameter with 4-foot blades.

Q: What variance is OmniWind seeking to get from the zoning board?
A: The applicant is seeking to get a use variance since wind systems are not a permitted use in Lacey and a bulk variance approval from the zoning board to extend the lighting poles to 54 feet, as code currently allows poles to rise to only 35 feet.

Q: How much energy will the wind turbines produce?
A: Each turbine will put out more than 4,000 kWh per year, which will make up less than 1 percent of Walmart’s energy, said Carl Douglas, president and co-Founder of OmniWind. Power will not be put back into the grid.

Q: How do the wind turbines work?
A: The beauty of this design is that the rotational speed of the machine has been limited, Douglas said. The turbines can run at 115 mph winds and they won’t be affected because they cannot go any faster. The wind turbines also function in lower wind speeds. The OmniWind turbine technology has an airfoil that makes up the propeller. The wind hits a planar face, lifts and trails off, Douglas said. When the wind interacts with the airfoil, it responds, turning the propeller and thereby the generator.

Q: What if there is a malfunctioning problem with a wind turbine?
A: The technology also has a hinge system at the bottom, Douglas said. The turbines will be dropped to a horizontal position and inspected annually. The turbines also will have a wireless monitoring system that is transmitted to a server. The system monitors the power the turbines generate over a range of operating speeds, Douglass said. If the machine deviates in any way, workers will know that there is a problem. The company has the ability to shut one or all turbines off.

Q: Why wind turbines?
A: Installing wind turbines at the Lanoka Harbor Walmart is the beginning of a pilot program that OmniWind Energy Systems LLC offered to corporate to save the chain money, the stores’ representative said. Walmart will be partnering with OmniWind at four stores across the country, including Lanoka Harbor and Pleasantville, NJ. Currently, there are no other locations where 10 OmniWind turbines are operating at once, Douglas said. But the company has had a site in Rogers, Ark., where no failures or issues have been reported, he said. If the pilot program is successful, Walmart may enter into a larger contract to install wind turbines at additional locations across the country.

Q: Wind turbines vs. solar panels?
A: The installation of wind turbines is just one project Walmart is pursuing to become more energy efficient, said Kory Lundberg, Director of Sustainability Communications for Walmart. The chain has installed skylights, solar panels and more in stores across the country. Currently, a Walmart in Worcester, Mass. has 12 wind turbines up, which were installed more than one year ago.

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Lacey Planning Board gave Greenskies Renewable Energy LLC the approval to install a ground level inverter with a cement pad in the back of Walmart that would be used to power 1,608 solar panels on the roof. Greenskies reported that the solar project would account for 70 percent of Walmart’s energy. The system is 450 kWh and is comparable to powering 55 to 60 homes with electricity, Greenskies representative Mike Silvestrini said.

Q: What are people saying about the wind turbines?
A: Many residents on Jacqueline Court, located right behind Walmart, voiced their apprehension toward wind turbines being installed in the Walmart parking lot citing possible noise, aesthetics, safety and a potential decrease in property value.

Q: Why worry?
A: Some residents are concerned about safety ever since three fiberglass blades flew off the tower of a turbine at James Knoeller’s Christmas Tree Farm on Carriage Road in March. The blades weighed approximately 265 to 290 pounds each and fell just 215 feet away from Knoeller’s 17-year-old granddaughter. Around the same time, cracks were found in the blades of a tower operated at Argos Farms on Lacey Road. As a precaution, the turbine was temporarily shut down.

Douglas assured residents that these wind turbines differ dramatically from large wind turbine technology so the risks are much smaller. Because of the system, the company would know immediately when there is the slightest problem, he said.

Q: Will the wind turbines make noise?
A: Because of the technology, the blades are virtually silent, Douglas said. With a cap at the end of each blade, the air mass can escape, making the turbine silent. The wind blowing around the current lamppost would be louder than the wind turbine, he said. Based on findings by a decibel meter, the ambient noise from the general public, roadway and winds was about 60 decibels, which is louder than the wind turbine. The Municipal Land Use law permits 55 db during the day and 65 db during the nighttime. The sound of the wind turbine cannot be measured, he said. Residents are invited to visit the OmniWind facilities to see and listen to the wind turbines.

Judy DiFiglio of Jacqueline Court in Lanoka Harbor pointed out that a 2006 study by the University of Massachusetts found that wind turbines with downwind rotors produce a low frequency sound. The wind turbines being installed by OmniWind are downwind but the turbines referred to in the study are primarily large scale. The study explains wind turbine acoustic noise and did mention that small wind turbines (under 30 kW) can also result in greater sound generation than expected because of higher tip speeds in high winds. Studies have yet to be done on OmniWind’s technology.

Q: Will the wind turbines be visible from Jacqueline Court?
A: The applicant’s professional planner Michael Boland released a helium balloon at the site where the turbines would be installed. The balloon had a 3-feet diameter and reached 54 feet. Boland took photos at ground level from various spots along Jacqueline Court and property adjacent to the neighborhood. The balloon was visible above the tree line from the southern end of Jacqueline Court, Boland said. Residents argue that the turbines will be more visible once the leaves fall from the trees.

Q: Will the wind turbines decrease property value?
A: There have been mixed messages regarding wind turbines effect on property value. Bud DiFiglio of Jacqueline Court pointed out that a CBC report found that wind turbines had a significant impact on property values. In this report, homes sold for 20 to 40 percent less than comparable properties that did not have turbines nearby. But various studies found on the National Association of Realtors website report that there is no widespread impact of wind power projects on surrounding residential property values.

Q: Will there be a strobe effect?
A: The strobe effect does not exist, Douglas said. They go through what is known as 30 hertz, which is about the limit where it has any effect if you’re at the right position at that moment of the day where the sun is low. You don’t feel or see the impact, he said. Douglas compared OmniWind’s technology to when the spokes of a bike going down are not visible. The blades will not be apparent because it is the same effect, he said. OmniWind’s blades are specifically design to prevent that, he said.

Q: Will the blades collect snow accumulation?
A: Because the blades are constantly moving, they do not collect accumulation, Douglas said.

Q: How will the turbines sustain a hurricane or extreme weather conditions?
A: During Hurricane Irene, OmniWind allowed the turbines to continue functioning. The design is based on 115 mph. They did not experience any problems, Douglas said. If the township’s emergency management team asked the poles to come down, the company would send a team to do so. If there were a power failure, the system would automatically shut down.

Q: Has the zoning board and OmniWind reached an agreement on abandonment?
A: No. The Abandonment Statute gives applicant’s 12 months but the board wants a smaller time period. OmniWind proposed six months and said it is not their intent to abandon the site.

Q: Will television and satellite reception be impaired low level frequency output of the turbines?
A: The energy produced is cleaner than most public utilities produced, Douglas said. The technology in the converters forces systems to be within the federal guidelines of plus or minus 10 voltage and frequency of the grid. The system automatically shuts down when it is detected going out of that tolerance.

Q: Will the turbines interfere with public safety radio systems?
A: Bud DiFiglio also pointed out that a whitepaper produced by the Wireless Engineer Communications Services reported that wind turbines can have a profound effect on public safety systems by deflecting microwave beams which can interfere with 911 signals. OmniWind has not done any studies in regards to radio waves and their effect on public safety. Douglas said the windmills being referred to are utility scale machines of significant proportion with blades in altitudes in excess of 300 feet where microwave transmission occurs. He is unaware of any transmission at the height of their proposed wind turbines. They have never created interference yet, he said.

Q: Do the turbines produce an electromagnetic field, like power lines, increasing a chance of electric shock in wet conditions?
A: Douglass said no.

Q: Will the wind turbines cause any health issues?
A: Judy DiFiglio made a presentation based on several studies that states there are principal health issues associated with inaudible frequencies produced by wind energy including wind turbine syndrome and viral acoustic disease, which can cause headaches, sea sickness, insomnia, heart disease and more. Many people living within 1.25 miles of wind turbines get sick, the report found.

The studies are based on industrial wind turbines but studies have yet to be done on OmniWind’s technology. Douglas did not return calls to comment.

Q: When will OmniWind next be before the zoning board?
A: Monday, Nov. 7, 7 p.m. at the Municipal Building.