Having studied industrial wind for over two years, I am just beginning to get my mind around this technical subject with disaggregated data sources. Some eye-opening facts draw into question whether there is sufficient wind on Mt.Massaemet to warrant investing $25 million of “our money.”
Massachusetts’ wind resource mapping has been manipulated
On September 17, 2007, Jane Pfister (no longer workng for the state) authored a MassGIS (Geographic Information System) map on wind resources in Massachusetts. This came but a few months after Governor Patrick had taken office and just a few months after the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) map of national wind resources was issued on February 6,2007. The NREL map broke wind resources down into seven categories from “poor” to “superb.” The vast majority of Massachuetts’ land on this map fell into the categories of “marginal” and “poor.”
On the MassGIS Pfister map, the same data was consolidated and altered into four categories ranging from “poor” to “excellent.” Wind speeds that had resulted in “marginal wind” on the national map became “good wind” on the Massachusetts map and “good wind” became “very good wind.” These maps were referenced to just a few weather-monitoring stations, and according to ‘Kurt Gaertner at the MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA), the map was altered without new data beng created, This mapping act has helped make western MA ridges the focus for land-based industrial wind developers.
We can only assume that the GIS mapping changes were made to justify and attract wind investment for the Governor’s 2020 renewable goal.
Some relevant facts relating to Mt. Massaemet wind:
• The 2007 NREL wind resource map shows virtually all land-based U.S. wind resources are located in our central plains from North Dakota to Texas. New England is not identified as a viable wind resource area on those maps.
• Massachusetts ranks 35th out of all states and ranks lower than all other New England states. It is essentially not on the chart when compared to the Midwest.
• Only small ridge sections of western MA hill towns and a bit of the central Massachusetts hills have any appreciable wind resources.
• It takes a significant amount of wind to start a turbine and even more wind to obtain reasonable performance efficiency. Turbine “cut-in speed” (the minimum wind speed needed for a turbine to work) is approximately 13.5 mph and 50 percent efficiency is only reached at approximately 24-25 mph. One hundred percent efficiency is reached when winds are sustained at 30 mph. Eight-10mph is considered a gentle breeze and most people experience this daily.
• Minimal power is produced at 13.5 mph. Since power generation has an exponentially compounding relation to wind speed, it rapidly increases with each mph increase. However, it appears that all turbines in New England are doomed to the lowest 25 percent in efficiency.
• There is a big difference in producing electricity and producing measurable and meaningful quantities of electricity, for which higher wind speeds are necessary.
• In 2004-2005, the UMass. Wind Energy Center conducted wind speed monitoring on West Mountain in Savoy, elevation 2040 ft. (500 feet higher than Massaemet). Of the 10 months of available data, only two months, October and November, exceeded the minimal 13mph wind speed required to have cut-in from turbines. Speeds averaged 5.1 mph for those 10 months. Other western Massachusetts studies found on the Center’s Web site reveal similar patterns. Only two or three winter months generally meet the cut-in wind speed requirement – months also usually plagued by icing and downtime.
• Brodie Mountain is cited as one of the windiest locations in the state and is reported to have 18.3 mph average wind speed. It, too, falls short of the 25 mph required for 50 percent turbine efficiency. The state has predicted, 40 percent efficiency for Brodie Turbines – a percentage hardly achieved anywhere in the world. Eighteen mph, however, may be the highest average of physically accessible wind in the state. This confirms the NREL mapping designation of “poor to marginal” for Massachusetts.
• Mt. Massaemet is some 500 feet lower than West Mountain in Savoy, so its statistics can be helpful in predicting substantially less wind resource.
• The two Princeton, Massachusetts Mt. Wachusett wind turbines, now Constructed, are categorized as being in a “marginal” wind resource zone.
• A pixel-by-pixel assessment of the MassGIS 50-meter wind resource map for Mt. Massaemet shows the highest single pixel on that map averages only 14 mph. Once elevation, wind density, wind shear and industry standard downtime are calculated in, expected turbine efficiency is approximatelv 13.87 percent. It must be acknowledged, however, that the proposed 80-meter hub height for turbines on Mt. Massaemet could modestly increase that efficiency. It must also be acknowledged that the wind does not blow all of the time or even 50 percent of the time, as required to reach desired efficiency.
• Nearby Searsburg, VT turbines are averaging in the mid-teens to the low-20s in annual efficiency percentage. This corroborates the predicted Massaemet efficiency. There appears to be no readily available data for Brodie Mountain in Hancock, a publicly owned corporation. Most power companies guard actual production records.
• In England, using data taken from the Balancing Mechanism Reporting Service (BMRS) Web site and originating from the National Grid, a report finds that between November 2008-December 2010 on- and off-shore turbines operated below 20 percent of their capacity more than half the time, and below 10 percent for more than a third of the time.
• Wind turbines consume much of the electricity they produce, thus reducing proclaimed efficiency even more. Continuous heaters, pumps, multiple pitch, yaw and turning mechanisms, turning the blades every few hours to avoid blade warp when without wind and de-icing are some examples of turbine energy use.
• Dr. Ben Luce, a physicist who worked for 10 years with the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is now a professor at Lyndon State College, VT, was a recent speaker in the Shelburne Wind information series. He supports wind in the right location and was a co-sponsor of a Montana wind farm, but he believes that wind on New England ridges is “bad science.” He confirms that ridgeline wind turbines in New England make no economic, energy, technical or logical sense.
• The MassGIS wind map created by Pfister has been manipulated to look better than it is.
• There is ample international, national and local evidence to question the viability of the proposed Massaemet wind farm.
• The low prevailing wind speeds of western Massachusetts have and will continue to equate to very low turbine efficiency – massive change for little or no return.
• Some individuals, including Dr. Luce, who have ample experience with wind projects and are favorably inclined toward wind power, suggest that Mt.Massaemet and New England ridge-top wind is a bad idea.
• We need to ban on-shore industrial wind in MA and New England, as Dr Luce so succinctly recommends.
In light of the uncertainty, I humbly submit that Shelburne town officials should seek specific wind resource data that can refute or confirm Mr. Field’s public assertion that there is “plenty of wind on Massaemet.”
Before accepting the application for four turbines on Massaemet, a town-directed, yearlong study of the wind resource should be undertaken and funded by proponents of the application. The model state bylaw attached as part of the Massaemet application also recommends this duration of wind resource study.
To request sources of information mentioned in this article, please contact: Walter Cudnohufsky at Walt@wcala.com.
Walt Cudnohujsky is an Ashfield landscape architect and land/community planner.
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