Jamestown officials are weighing the benefits of installing a wind turbine on the island to generate power. On March 9, several local leaders crossed the Newport Bridge to inspect the wind turbine behind Portsmouth High School and gain a close-up view of how it works.
The turbine’s performance has “exceeded expectations,” both with respect to generating electricity and revenues, according to the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee. In its first fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, the turbine accounted for $259,565 in net revenues after operating expenses of $203,174 were paid and $204,000 of the bond principal was retired.
But as luck would dictate, on the day Jamestown officials went to visit, the turbine blades failed to whirl, even though there was a gusty wind.
The 336-foot tall turbine had gone out of commission due to a power outage the night before, according to Gary Crosby, Portsmouth’s assistant town planner. He is also the man in charge of the technology.
As a safety feature, Crosby said, the turbine disconnects itself from the power grid during any outage. Normally he resets the computers himself, but this time, the manual reset failed and he was obligated to call the maintenance company.
The downtime was unusual. The Portsmouth turbine had been operating at 99.5 percent availability for the entire month of February, Crosby said. That number beat the original manufacturer’s warranty, which had promised 95 percent availability after the first six months of operation.
Nonetheless, Crosby and Gary Gump, chairman of the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee’s Sustainable Energy Subcommittee, went on with the show and led a tour of the turbine. Among those who joined consultant Harley Lee on the field trip were Town Administrator Bruce Keiser and Town Council members Michael Schnack, Ellen Winsor and Bill Murphy. Also tagging along were Town Planner Lisa Bryer, Town Engineer Mike Gray, Planning Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury and Zoning Board of Review member Joe Logan. Logan’s wife, Nancy, was also in attendance. She is a member of the Bike Path Design Committee.
The group – except for Keiser, who was on crutches – later climbed a rocky path to a clearing leading to the turbine platform. They ultimately entered the tower, which houses the equipment, including the cables that coursed down the 213–foot length of the tower. Black and green neon safety harnesses were stashed beside metal ladders, which Crosby and other workers have used to scale the turbine.
Crosby described the climb up to the top as “brutal.”
He also pointed out the metal box with the program logic controller software that runs the apparatus. Then he showed the group the manual reset button on the controller box. Typically, he said, he simply presses that button to restart the turbine. Thanks to the technology, he can even restart the turbine from his home, he added.
Lee, the consultant hired by the Town Council to evaluate the costs of a Taylor Point wind turbine and to calculate potential profits, arranged the tour. Lee said Crosby would describe the “town’s process for evaluating a wind turbine” and would summarize the “operating results and the lessons learned.” He would also answer any questions.
Keiser asked about the wind speed. According to Gump, on average wind speed is 13 mph.
Lee also provided a cost comparison of the Portsmouth turbine versus two other manufacturers. The numbers were estimates, but the Portsmouth turbine was the least expensive of the three, with a total cost of $3.1 million. By comparison, two competitor models – the Goldwind GW82 and the Gamesa’s G87 – cost $4.7 million and $5.6 million, respectively. (Gamesa is based in Pennsylvania and has built 20 turbines in New England, including three in Massachusetts. Goldwind has operations in China and in the United States. That company has built three turbines in Providence.)
But AAER, the firm that built the Portsmouth turbine, unexpectedly went out of business in 2010. Pioneer Wind Energy Systems is the successor company.
Crosby said AAER’s business failure had come as a surprise. As a result of the company’s demise, all the warranties from the manufacturer, supposed to be good for five years, were gone. However, the town was able to hire a maintenance company to deal with repairs. Upkeep money had already been included in the budget, so there have been no unanticipated expenses, Crosby said.
As for capacity, Crosby said the turbine has been operating at the industry standard.
“We’re almost dead on,” he said.
Asked about the number of birds killed by the turbine, Crosby said he did not know of any birds being harmed. He did not monitor the site constantly but said he visited two or three times a week and had never seen any dead birds.
Rhode Island now has several wind turbines in operation, including one at Portsmouth Abbey, which is within sight of the Portsmouth turbine, and three at Fields Point in Providence, which Murray, Lee and Pendlebury visited recently.
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