The Scituate’s blades stalled so often over the past several months that the turbine failed to meet the town’s energy expectations.
The turbine, according to the public-private agreement town officials set with Scituate Wind, should generate 3 million kilowatt-hours per year. It fell short, generating 2.43 million kilowatt-hours instead, said Al Bangert, the town’s special project coordinator.
The town ended up benefiting twice despite the short fall.
For one, Scituate Wind wrote the town a $47,000 check—a requirement set in the partnership agreement—to make up the difference.
Then a spike in electric rates during the winter made the energy that the turbine did produce more valuable. Also through its agreement with Scituate Wind, the town was already locked into a lower rate—8.9 cents per kilowatt-hour compared to the 22 cents at National Grid—and overall made a profit worth nearly $320,000.
“That’s a big windfall for us,” Bangert said.
The wind turbine has netted $780,000 in revenue since its inception “on what was an empty and useless piece of land,” Bangert said.
Whether in production numbers or resident reactions, the turbine has seen its ups and downs since it went online on March 29, 2012.
After several high-performing months between July 2012 and July 2013, the turbine’s output has proved inconsistent between July 2013 and July 2015, according to Scituate Wind’s PowerDash website, which publishes production data. Between July 2014 and June 2015, the turbine fell shy of 100,000-kilowatt hours three months while another month passed the 400,000 mark, the data shows.
“It’s not operating as much as we’d like it to,” Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said.
Gordon Deane, whose company, Palmer Management Corporation, oversees the turbine, expects a new partnership and system upgrades will translate to better production going forward.
When Palmer first got involved with the project through its limited liability company, Scituate Wind, it had a contract with a Chinese wind turbine company called Sinovel Wind Group Company. But since that time, Sinovel stopped maintaining turbines in the United States, which made service for Scituate’s turbine more difficult.
Recently, Deane said, his firm terminated that contract and made new partners—Gemini Energy Services, a California-based company that had been a subcontractor of Sinovel, and American Superconductor (AMSC), an energy technologies company in Massachusetts.
Another contract with AMSC calls to update the turbine’s reporting system and provide new controller cards that are more technologically advanced, he said.
Once the upgrades are made, Deane said, “We would expect more operating time and also faster troubleshooting.”
Managing break downs
Deane believes some of the turbine’s issues trace to a lightning strike 14 months ago.
The turbine has some protection because a lightning strike can be likely considering the structures are isolated, he said, but the strike could have caused problems that took time to surface.
Overall, problems with the turbine have varied from communication issues to utility problems, Deane said. Sometimes problems can be fixed with a simple reset and sometimes a person needs to scale the roughly 260-foot turbine to find the problem, he said.
Sometimes people see the blades aren’t spinning, but that doesn’t always mean it’s down. The turbine can rotate 360 degrees and will slow to a halt if it needs to shift with the winds for optimal production, Bangert said.
“It’s a complicated machine,” he said. “You see three blades and a tower. Often the fix can be done in a day once they know what it is. The diagnostics takes several days.”
Though its contract with Scituate Wind protects the town, Deane and town officials agreed no one wins when the turbine shuts down.
“Our needs and benefits are the same,” Bangert said. “When it spins, we benefit. When it spins, they benefit. When it’s broken, neither of us benefits. Getting it running is paramount.”
Unlike the town, Deane said his company has gotten “very little” out of the project financially.
“I’m pleased the town’s getting benefits. We are paying our bills. We aren’t making a profit because of the costs for upgrades and maintenance,” he said.
After the next round of upgrades, the turbine should operate more reliably “and hopefully do more than pay our bills,” Deane said.
The town project hasn’t soured the company from turbines.
Palmer has two wind turbines in Fair Haven, each powering 1.5 megawatts, enough to cover 100 percent of the municipality’s energy needs, Deane said.
Palmer is also in the process of installing five turbines in Berlin, New Hampshire, for a total of 14 megawatts.
“I think it’s a great idea. Hopefully we’ll do a lot more of these with other communities,” Deane said of the turbine projects.
Going and getting green
In Scituate, the turbine is one reason the state has looked at the town as “a poster child for collaboration,” Vinchesi said.
The turbine, along with the solar array across the street, helped transform Scituate into a green community that puts the town in contention for grants. Three months ago, the town bought three electric cars and a charger with one of the grants, she said.
Becoming a green community was the vision selectmen and town officials had in 2005 when conversations about renewable energy first began. Later, in 2011, selectmen made it a goal to be the leading community in sustainable and clean energy, Vinchesi said.
“That turbine was the seed that gave us a much larger discussion,” she said.
But going green isn’t the only benefit.
The town’s contract has it paying Scituate Wind some expenses for power generated, but the town also makes money off generation from National Grid and taxes for the turbine from the limited liability company.
In Fiscal Year 2015, for example, the turbine produced 2,437,930 kilowatt-hours of energy, town records show. For that production, the town paid Scituate Wind about $196,000, and received almost $24,000 from the company in taxes plus an additional $491,000 from National Grid for production.
The town’s total benefit for the fiscal year was just over $319,000, Bangert said. That total includes the $47,000 for underproduction and taxes owed.
Because of its efforts in renewable energy, namely the turbine and solar array, the town can put $200,000 into a revolving fund every year for the next 25 years, Vinchesi said. Another $100,000 going into the revolving fund each year comes from the meals tax.
Those funds helped pay the town’s increased electric costs of street lights during fiscal years 2014 and 2015 (averaging $57,000 per year), town records show. Funds will go toward town projects, such as the new Gates Middle School and the public safety complex, she said.
“That’s money that otherwise had to be paid in taxes,” Vinchesi said. “$300,000 per year for 25 years, $7.5 million is what we’ve saved.”
Each $100,000 is also a conservative amount the town can set aside in the fund, she added, “so I would say that’s just the floor.”
In the end, the greatest source of pride for the community is its environmental footprint. As Bangert said, people don’t necessarily recycle to save money, just like the town didn’t do these projects for the sole purpose of saving tax dollars.
“Electricity was getting more expensive. Fossil fuels were a big concern,” Vinchesi said. “It raises a way to save money, but we can also do something for the environment.”
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