Crisfield’s long-awaited wind turbine is going vertical – way, way vertical.
After eight years of planning and a good deal of frustration, workers began erecting the turbine Thursday, one pre-manufactured chunk at a time.
When their work wraps up about a week or so later, the main stem of the turbine will tower about 250 feet above the ground. When standing perpendicular to the ground, the tip of its blades will measure about 325 feet back to terra firma.
Translation: Crisfield isn’t just getting a $4.1 million monument to green energy, it’s getting a landmark.
The construction site on North Seventh Street has turned into an object of fascination, attracting bands of people who pull up in pickup trucks and on bicycles to watch what’s going on.
“It’s something different going on in Crisfield,” said Doug Swift, who spent several moments craning his neck upward shortly after noon Friday from across the street at N.R. Dryden Seafood Company. “It’s a lot different.”
The turbine will easily become the tallest structure in the city, dwarfing the 170-foot water tower that currently holds the title.
It will take several more weeks after construction is finished before the turbine takes its first spin, Crisfield Mayor Kim Lawson said. A lot of wiring and testing has to happen before the blades can start generating up to 750 kilowatts of power for the city’s adjacent wastewater treatment plant.
Lawson was an early supporter of the wind project, which started when his predecessor Percy “PJ” Purnell was mayor and Lawson was still on the City Council. But he is bearish on how much it will save the town on its annual $150,000 electric bill at the plant.
“There will be savings once it’s operational, but it won’t be as lofty as people talked about,” he said.
Even if the wind complies and supplies the city with all the energy it needs for the plant, it will still be on the hook for Delmarva Power’s distribution fees, which account for about one-third of the total bill, Lawson said. The plant can’t be unhooked from the power grid because it will need to keep running when the wind dies down.
Any savings also will be offset by the annual $24,000 in operational costs, he added. There’s also the annual loan payment. But with the help of several federal grants, the city’s tab for the project was shaved down to about $400,000.
What’s more, no one is quite sure how much power the turbine will ultimately produce. A year-long study showed steady winds of 17 mph at 250 feet over the city, the mayor said. But its usefulness will depend how the wind blows in the future.
Still, the effort will have been worth it even if the financial returns are modest, Lawson said.
“This green energy source is what America needs,” he said.
There was a time when he and other city officials wondered whether they would ever see the turbine become a reality.
The Massachusetts wind-energy firm Aeronautica Windpower LLC had to scramble last year after the parent company for its turbine blade producer, a company called Energetic, field for bankruptcy. The molds for the fiberglass blades had to be hauled from Michigan to Texas – after they were released from the bankruptcy proceedings.
The construction period, originally scheduled for 365 days, has now stretched to 965 days, Lawson said.
But with a crane hoisting the tower into place, he feels like he has the wind back in his sails. He just hopes it keeps blowing.
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