Some residents and elected officials question whether the wind turbine was the right approach, given the length of time it takes to earn money back. The Love Circle project could take more than a decade to recoup the initial investment in it, longer depending on government subsidies and how much the Tennessee Valley Authority pays for the electricity.
top Love Circle near West End Avenue one day this month, a group of Vanderbilt University engineering students peppered the professor with questions about wind and solar energy production.
As the students looked up at a 12-foot-diameter wind turbine and down at an array of 20 solar panels, they asked whether homeowners could install similar technology and how long it would take to recoup the investment. They were there to get a firsthand look at a pilot project funded with nearly $100,000 from Metro Water Services. But not everyone is convinced Metro Water made a wise investment.
The wind turbine and solar panels at Love Circle are part of an effort by Metro to study whether the technology could be used to help offset the water utility’s electricity bills or to power remote pumping stations.
“We have to be planning for when nonrenewables are out of the picture,” said Amrutur Anilkumar, a Vanderbilt professor of mechanical engineering.
Some residents and elected officials question whether the wind turbine was the right approach, given the length of time it takes to earn money back.
The Love Circle project could take more than a decade to recoup the initial investment in it, longer depending on government subsidies and how much the Tennessee Valley Authority pays for the electricity.
Metro Councilman Charlie Tygard said the project has more benefits for Vanderbilt students than for taxpayers.
“I understand the need for alternative energy sources,” said Tygard, an at-large member. “From a taxpayers’ point of view, it has to make financial sense.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in an opinion article in The Tennessean earlier this year, called the Love Circle wind turbine an eyesore and said it would take 1.1 million of them at 15 times the cost to replace the new Watts Bar nuclear reactor.
From the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, Alexander called for an end to wind-energy tax incentives. The U.S. Senate is debating whether to phase out the incentives over the next six years, rather then let them expire at the end of the year.
Last year, Metro Water teamed with Vanderbilt to develop the project. The turbine and solar panels began generating electricity in tests in early August and officially got up and running Oct. 16.
From Aug. 2 through Dec. 6 of this year, the entire project has generated 2,708 kilowatt hours of electricity, mostly from the solar panels. The wind turbine has generated 348 kilowatt hours.
On a daily basis, the wind turbine has been generating about 5 kilowatt hours, while the solar panels generate about 21 kilowatt hours, Anilkumar said. The average U.S. household uses about 30 kilowatt hours of electricity a day, which is the ultimate goal for the Love Circle project, he said.
Metro Water invested about $97,000 in the project, and after administrative expenses, it cost about $88,000 to buy the equipment, construct the solar and wind turbine, put in fences for security and establish a wireless data connection back to Vanderbilt University.
The cost of the actual solar and wind equipment is about $35,000, Anilkumar said.
According to a cost analysis Anilkumar provided to The Tennessean, the solar project could pay for itself in 13.5 years. But that was due in part to tax credits, and it assumed TVA would continue to pay a 12-cent premium for electricity produced through renewable sources.
Nashville resident Elaine Gibson, who lives not far from the Love Circle site off West End Avenue, questions the viability of the project.
“Wind technology has been around for hundreds of years. The knowledge is known,” she said. “We don’t have to spend money to know what wind power will mean to Nashville.”
Metro Water spokeswoman Sonia Harvat said the project remains in its early stages, but early results are encouraging.
Metro Water spends millions each year on electricity to pump water, treat it and push it through thousands of miles of pipe. The utility has more than 50 pumping stations, many in remote areas subject to power outages, Harvat said.
She said Metro Water wants to study whether it can help offset some of its electricity costs through wind and solar projects but also see if they could power remote pumping stations, either as a primary or backup source.
“Everyone is looking at ways to become more environmentally friendly,” Harvat said. “This is one of those steps we are taking to reach that point. We really push water conservation. We want to push energy conservation.”
Harvat said wind power does not have widespread use in Nashville, and Metro Water wanted to test it.
Just as important, Anilkumar and Harvat said, is the project’s educational value. The site serves as a laboratory for students, from not only Vanderbilt but also area high schools and technical colleges, Anilkumar said.
Anilkumar calls the Love Circle project a “showcase facility.” That’s why it’s important that people can see the wind turbine moving, he said. It is clearly visible from West End Avenue.
The project has a website that tracks the amount of energy the wind turbine and solar panels have generated.
“I think it can be a great educational tool for the general public,” Harvat said. “We have high hopes for it.”
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