First Wind officials say the new wind farm in Sheffield is exceeding expectations.
A team from Boston-based First Wind, as well as employees who work on-site in Sheffield, fielded questions and provided an update about the operations.
First Wind also sent a letter to the Sheffield Board of Selectmen, updating it on the operation. In the letter, operations manager Andy Doak wrote, “Since the project began operating, it has exceeded expectations, generating more than 22 million kilowatts of clean, renewable electricity that has been delivered to homes and businesses in Vermont with no associated emissions or pollution. Since Oct. 19, the Sheffield project has generated enough energy to power the equivalent of 16,500 homes daily.”
According to the letter, three employees are based at the Sheffield site monitoring it from an operations center on Duck Pond Road.
“Our daily work is focused on ensuring the Sheffield wind facility is running as efficiently as possible, while ensuring all environmental requirements are followed,” Doak wrote. “We also have remote operations centers located in Boston, Massachusetts, and Temecula, California, which monitor the site 24 hours a day through computer and control systems.
“In addition, we work closely with the four staff members from Clipper Windpower, the manufacturer of the Sheffield turbines, who are also on-site and ensure the turbines are operating efficiently,” Doak wrote.
In the letter, a handful of frequently asked questions were answered, including how much money the town will receive.
“As part of an agreement with the town of Sheffield during the development of this project, Vermont Wind is obligated to pay $520,000 annually to the town of Sheffield during the life of the project,” Doak wrote.
A payment of $117,000 was received this month, town residents were told last week.
According to the letter, Burlington Electric Department and Washington Electric Co-op are buying power from the turbines in Sheffield.
Another question was why the turbines aren’t all operating when the wind is blowing. “Part of operating a commercial wind facility is conducting routine inspections and maintenance on the turbines,” according to the letter. “During a maintenance or inspection activity the turbines are shut down so that our technicians can perform the required work. This process is similar to turning off a car to conduct an inspection or maintenance activity. At a wind project, inspections and maintenance activities occur more frequently during the initial years to ensure the new equipment is functioning properly.”
At town meeting in March, Sheffield voters will be asked about how they would like to begin spending the first of the supplemental payments from Boston-based First Wind, whose contoversial wind farm began spinning its turbines in October after a seven-year battle.
At Wednesday’s Sheffield Planning Commission meeting, residents began debating what the money – $520,000 a year for 20 years – will be used for. This year, is difficult to estimate the payment because it is based on tax valuation as well, and the value has not been set, said town’s attorney Richard Saudek.
In a follow-up to some of the estimates he provided last week, Saudek said he over-stated the expenses of running the project. The example he provided was “probably quite wide off the mark” and he offered a figure he thought was more accurate.
“Under this contract [between the town of Sheffield and First Wind], the way valuation of the project for property tax purposes is calculated is by taking the gross revenues of the project, subtracting the expenses in order to get net income, and dividing what amounts to the cost of money for First Wind,” Saudek said.
“The project should generate about 105 million kilowatt hours a year,” he said. “The way that calculation is made is is to start with 40 MW or 40,000 kW, and multiply by the number of hours in a year  and by .3, to reflect that the machines generate about 3/10 or 30 percent of what they would generate if they were running at full capacity 100 percent of the time.”
According to Saudek, 30 percent is a typical capacity factor applied to wind turbines.
“If we assume that those kilowatt hours will sell to First Wind’s wholesale customers at, say, an average of 10.5 cents a kW hour, the gross revenue would be $11,376,000.” Saudek said. “I have no idea what the annual expense of running the machines will be, but I regret having said $8 or $9 million, thereby bringing the net down to about $2 million. I think a more likely expense number would be in the $3-$4 million range. If we use $3 million, the net would be more like $8 million.”
First Wind is going to have an open house and bus tour of the site for residents of Sheffield and the surrounding communities, company officials said last week. Selectmen will be told when and a date and sign-up sheet will be posted at the town offices.
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