The turbine rarely makes more energy than the automotive building uses, Petit and Atkinson said. “It’s not in a real good wind spot,” Petit said. “It’s not there to make money.” It’s there for demonstration. When it first went up, in August 2009, “people stopped along the highway to look at it,” Petit said. “It’s educational to the public and students.”
When the wind turbine just off Route 95 at the New England Institute of Technology automotive campus isn’t turning, it’s not for academic reasons.
The wind has to blow at least 7.8 mph for the blades to turn.
Or the wind could be blowing too hard. “When it reaches 56 mph, it brakes,” said Michael Petit, chairman of the electrical technology department, who helped develop the institute’s green technology program.
Another time the blades won’t turn is when the tower unwinds itself. The turbine, made by Northern Power Systems in Vermont, automatically turns. “It will spin and circle with the wind,” Petit said. After four or five turns, “it will stop and rotate the other way so the cable doesn’t get twisted around.”
The tower spins so slowly that “you wouldn’t notice it, driving by,” Petit said.
Students don’t usually go inside the turbine, except for a peek. And they aren’t allowed to climb the rungs inside. Anyone who climbs has to be trained by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, and “it’s an expensive operation to get certified by OSHA,” said Petit, who is 60 and lives in Exeter. He hasn’t been to the top. “If there’s not an elevator, I’m not going. I’m the kind of guy, I’d get to the top and I’d forget why I’m up there.”
The turbine is run entirely by Northern Power, said Trevor Atkinson, a salesman and engineer for the company, which has its headquarters in Barre, Vt.
On its website, New England Tech has a link to an animated drawing that shows how fast the wind is blowing and whether electricity is flowing from the turbine to the automotive building, or, if the turbine isn’t moving, from the power grid to the automotive building. (See for yourself here.)
The turbine rarely makes more energy than the automotive building uses, Petit and Atkinson said.
“It’s not in a real good wind spot,” Petit said. “It’s not there to make money.”
It’s there for demonstration.
When it first went up, in August 2009, “people stopped along the highway to look at it,” Petit said. “It’s educational to the public and students.”
Since then, it has generated 365,533 kwh of energy, and saved the institute an estimated $54,829 in electricity costs, according to an informational graphic.
The turbine, which stands 121 feet from the ground to the hub and 156 feet to the top of a blade at its highest point, is one of the smallest models sold internationally, Atkinson said. It is known as a 100-kilowatt turbine. Larger turbines, such as the three at the Port of Providence, stand 364 feet at their highest point and produce 1.5 megawatts each. By comparison, the turbine at NEIT produces 0.1 megawatt.
The port’s turbines are Chinese-made, but NEIT’s turbine, and its sister turbine at the Shalom Apartments just down the highway, are made in Vermont.
“We’ve built three generations of this turbine,” Atkinson said, about 150 in North America and approaching 200 in the rest of the world.
None of the company’s turbines has ever lost a blade or had a fire, he said. The blades are “very securely fastened with two dozen bolts,” and there’s nothing combustible in the tower.
Lightning does pose a problem. “Lightning is a black science,” he said. “We’ve had turbines that had direct hits and nothing happened to them.” Others were damaged by lightning that hit a mile away.
The turbine’s black blades are another safety provision.
Petit said the state required the black blades “because they were afraid of ice being shot off the blades and onto the road.”
The black coating “is a special hydrophobic paint that reduces the ability of snow and ice to adhere to the blade,” Atkinson said. “When the sun does come out, the blade heats up and the snow and ice just fall off.”
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