When it was introduced more than two years ago, the hope was that the experimental wind turbine near the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Mandeville would provide at least a portion of the power needed to run the 24-mile bridge. But preliminary results indicate that the wind machine may come up a little short. While the pilot project is still months from completion and a final report card will not be ready until 2013, bridge and Mandeville officials said the 60-foot tall turbine thus far has not produced as much power as initially anticipated, although it has generated enough to energize a small house.
“Overall, it’s been a good experiment,” Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou said of the project. “We’re certainly glad it’s there and it is producing energy.”
But Dufrechou said the project may end up falling short of preliminary projections partly because the turbine isn’t tall enough to catch winds that come from the north. “If winds come from the south, from across the lake, it’s good,” he said. “But if the winds are from the north, they’re obstructed by the canopy of trees in Mandeville and it doesn’t produce as much energy.”
When erected, it was hoped that the turbine would be able to generate power with winds as low as 7 or 8 mph. But, perhaps because of the design or construction of the device, officials said slightly more wind is needed to produce energy, meaning the turbine has not been as consistent as hoped in generating power.
Although the turbine has generated plenty of hype and some energy, it’s unclear exactly how much it has produced in terms of kilowatts. A Cleco spokesperson said the project is part of a renewable energy study requested by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. “When we complete our tests during the first quarter of next year, we will send a report to the LPSC that contains information regarding generating capacity during the two-year test period,” Cleco spokesperson Robbyn Cooper said in an e-mail.
The project was launched in 2010 with the city of Mandeville granting its approval to allow the windmill to be erected at the north end of the Causeway. Under the terms of the pilot project, Cleco installed the apparatus as part of a two-year test to determine the viability of wind power on and around Lake Pontchartrain.
The hope was that the winds that buffet drivers on the Causeway could provide enough energy to offset some of the bridge’s utility costs. Hailed as a first step in bringing renewable energy to Louisiana, the project was officially began in January of 2011. At the time, officials said the study would eventually determine the feasibility of placing more turbines around the bridge to create still more energy to operate the span, which spends about $200,000 a year on electricity. Mandeville officials said the city has not been contacted about placing additional wind machines in the area.
Wind turbines turn in accordance with the moving air, powering a generator that supplies an electric current. Wind turbines studies in several other communities around the country, including one in Milwaukee, have been successful, at least initially. That city’s 156-foot-tall turbine, which was fired up in February, has outperformed projections in its first eight months of operation, according to Matt Howard, the city’s environmental sustainability director. It is located about 100 yards off the shore of Lake Michigan near the southern end of the Port of Milwaukee.
Howard said the city considered building a shorter turbine but opted for a taller version because the power generated by the device increases dramatically as the height increases.
Wind energy is a percolating issue in Washington as Congress tries to determine whether to extend the production tax credit for producers of the alternative power source, which is due to expire Dec. 31 along with other tax incentives. Wind power is a rapidly-emerging energy source around the world. The United States recently surpassed Germany as the world’s number one producer of wind energy. According to estimates from the Department of Energy, wind power could provide 20 percent of the nation’s energy supply by 2030.