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Wind turbines at Presque Isle await decisions on future  

Credit:  By DANA MASSING, Erie Times-News, www.goerie.com 31 March 2012 ~~

Yellow tails still stick out, but blades no longer whir in the wind.

The two wind turbines located at Presque Isle State Park haven’t been generating electricity since fall. But that’s not because the breeze died down or park officials are opposed to the alternative power source.

“Wind energy is good,” park Operations Manager Harry Leslie said.

But maintenance and use concerns led to removal of the blades from one turbine on the peninsula at around the time the blades fell off the other near the park’s Tom Ridge Environmental Center. Now officials are gathering information before deciding what to do with the structures.

Both small-scale turbines were installed atop 120-foot towers.

The Ridge Center wind turbine went up in 2007 and fed into the power grid used by that building, which houses park and other offices, displays, labs, a gift shop, a cafe and a theater.

The turbine provided about 5 percent of the building’s energy, Leslie said.

The other wind turbine, on Barracks Beach by the Stull Interpretive Center, began operating in 2004. It replaced an older model that had originally been installed in 1982 on Beach 6 before being relocated.

Erie-based North Coast Energy Systems worked with the Presque Isle Partnership to find grants for the $22,900 turbine and $13,200 tower that provided power to the Stull Center, according to information from North Coast co-owner Lisa DiFrancisco.

“That was a community effort,” she said, adding that local contractors and volunteers donated their time for the installation.

In a good wind year, she said, the turbine could provide 13,000 to 15,000 kilowatt-hours, enough electricity for one to three standard residential homes.

Leslie said concerns had been raised about the Stull Center wind turbine before parts fell from the Ridge Center one on a gusty Oct. 15.

“It was during a very heavy wind event,” he said. Gusts were recorded at about 40 mph.

Part of the Ridge Center unit dropped below the tower. The three 11.5-foot blades scattered.

Leslie said several issues have delayed repairs to that turbine.

An assistant park manager who oversaw maintenance at Presque Isle was promoted and hasn’t been replaced yet.

Also, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had received a request from a cell phone provider to look at using the structure as a cell tower as well as a wind tower. That request was received more than a year ago, Leslie said.

About four weeks ago, the conclusion was reached that having both uses on the tower wasn’t good, he said.

And DCNR officials don’t know what went wrong with the wind turbine in October.

“We still aren’t 100 percent sure what caused the failure,” Leslie said.

They want to be sure before putting that unit in operation again.

“We have to feel comfortable before we put that back up,” Leslie said. “We are taking our time.”

Officials want an engineering study done, he said.

“It’s one thing for the turbine to fail,” Leslie said. “It’s another thing for it to fall off the pole.”

Unlike the Ridge Center unit, the Stull Center turbine was deliberately decommissioned on a temporary basis, Leslie said.

DiFrancisco said the three blades were taken down on Nov. 21.

“We didn’t want further damage to take place to that unit,” Leslie said.

Its future depends on what’s done with the building that received power from the turbine.

“We’re not really using the Stull Center now, so we’re not getting the benefit of the electrical production,” Leslie said.

Officials are considering uses for the building, including as the site of a nature preschool, he said. But until they choose a plan for the Stull Center, they don’t want to invest in repairs to the turbine, he said.

Officials are also exploring whether the power created by the Stull Center turbine could be directed elsewhere.

In addition to providing power, Leslie said, the park’s wind turbines serve an educational purpose.

A plaque near the Ridge Center wind turbine explains that DCNR installed it “to show how alternative energy can reduce pollution and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The turbine uses wind energy to generate electricity, which has less effect on the environment than traditional power sources, according to the display.

Brochures about wind energy are available at the park, and naturalists have programs about alternative energy, Leslie said.

DiFrancisco, whose company is a certified dealer/installer for wind turbines, said they offer several advantages.

They provide an energy source and can reduce dependency on foreign sources, she said.

“It’s a clean energy source,” DiFrancisco said.

“There’s no pollution involved in it.”

Leslie said wind turbines definitely have benefits, but several decisions still have to be made before any of the propellerlike blades begin twirling again over Presque Isle State Park.

Source:  By DANA MASSING, Erie Times-News, www.goerie.com 31 March 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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