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Upper Cape Tech wind turbine was ‘ahead of its time’

BOURNE – Nearly eight years ago, Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School raised an 80-foot wind turbine so students could learn about renewable energy on their own campus.

But in recent years, the German-made Aircon turbine began to lose its luster as mechanical problems and long waits for parts rendered it inoperable for long periods of time. And earlier this summer, the school decided to pull the plug, spending $2,200 to take the turbine down in June before scrapping it for $1,200.

“The cost to repair and the time it was down to get the materials from Germany kind of made it ineffective as a teaching tool, which is why we initially put it up,” school Superintendent Bob Dutch said.

Upper Cape Tech erected the turbine with about $85,000 in grant funding, which covered the construction and three years of maintenance, he said.

When the three years were up, the regular maintenance was discontinued because the estimated $10,000 annual cost “far outweighed” the energy produced, Dutch said.

Yet the driving force behind the decision to take the turbine down was not the cost of maintenance and repairs but its lack of educational value, he said.

“It didn’t seem like money well spent considering they’re public dollars,” Dutch said. “(The School Committee) didn’t see any cost where it would be a good decision given the poor performance of that particular turbine.”

Cape Cod Community College students also used the turbine as a training tool, said retired Upper Cape Tech teacher Leo Bedard, who oversaw construction trades and environmental technology at the tech school when the turbine was installed.

The turbine was on the cutting edge at the time of its installation, Bedard said. Among its features was a computer system that pointed it in the direction of the wind and a hydraulic system allowing it to be lowered to ground level.

“It was senseless using antiquated equipment to teach our students. I wanted state-of-the-art, and I wanted absolute safety for our students,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was probably a little ahead of its time.”

Maryjane Curran, who was the community college’s environmental technology coordinator before retiring in 2007, said smaller turbines like the one at Upper Cape Tech were not sturdy in those years.

“It’s like anything that’s new and innovative,” she said. “It’s not perfect when you first do it.”

Dutch said the school is now focusing on photovoltaic and solar-thermal systems. But, he said, students will continue learning about wind energy through the environmental science and technology program.

Bedard said the campus’ turbine was once a point of pride, putting technology just a short walk away from the classroom for Upper Cape Tech students. And in spite of its troubles, the turbine was not a waste, he said.

“A lot of teachers got a lot of use out of it, even though it didn’t live up to expectations.”