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A Wind Turbine
Wind Power

An Island Community Provides a Working Lab for the Expanded Use of Wind Power in New England Communities

By Peter F. Demers | October 19, 2010

Could offshore wind generators help reduce our reliance on gas and oil?

After the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, the continued use of fossil fuels is receiving ever greater scrutiny. While New Englanders, like many progressive communities throughout the US, are increasingly embracing power generated by windmill turbines, the experience of one small Maine island community could serve as a guide to the issues that need to be addressed.

The Fox Islands Turbines
BY & COPYRIGHT: The Fox Islands Electric Cooperative

In the largest community based wind project in the United States, the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative completed installation of three 1.5 megawatt GE wind turbines in November 2009.   The intention was to hopefully generate sufficient electric power to serve the needs of the residents of North Haven and Vinalhaven.   According to a report on workingwaterfront, as of February 1, 2010, the three turbines had produced over 2 million-kilowatt hours of electricity.   This is more than enough to meet the small island community’s needs and cuts the average ratepayer’s energy portion of their bill by half; overall rates were reduced by 15% year-on-year.   It is expected that annually the three turbines will generate sufficient power to meet the needs of both islands.

The Island Energy Task Force, a local group composed of island civic and business leaders, is assessing the impact wind power has on reducing energy costs for the islanders.   The current price of electricity is twice that on the mainland and it is hoped the use of heating oil (which is well over $3.00 per gallon) can be curtailed.

Wind Farms are becoming increasingly prevalent across the globe
BY & COPYRIGHT: Wagner Christian

Why then is the presence and operation of the turbines causing controversy with some of the islands’ residents? In a word, noise.   Some people who live close to the turbines are annoyed by the “whooshing” or “grinding” sounds made by the blades.   Others living nearby are less concerned, comparing it to the sound of a dishwasher and are accepting of the noise considering it a small price to pay for reducing Maine's dependency on increasingly high oil, gas and kerosene prices.

With the turbines currently producing electricity in excess of the community’s needs, tests are being conducted on a type of storage heater commonly used in Canada and Europe.   According to the Portland Press Herald, the excess power is sold to the mainland grid at a much lower price than the cost of space heat.   An onshore meter alerts the heaters to charge when excess power is generated or when the cost of using mainland power is sufficiently low.   While this experiment is underway, the power for the storage heaters will never cost more than 9 cents a kilowatt hour which was the equivalent price for oil in March 2010.

A Wind Turbine Shot from Below

Last month, residents with storage heaters paid the equivalent of $2.20 per gallon of oil, when the actual cost on the island was $3.20; a $1 per gallon saving on their heating bill. Islander Shelly Andrews' reduced energy bill has allowed her greenhouse to be heated earlier in the season, enabling flowers to be grown for her landscaping business. While the storage heater is insufficient to heat her entire greenhouse, it will likely substantially reduce Shelley's use of kerosene which is selling at more than $3.50 per gallon.

Despite the initial favorable findings, it is not yet known how expandable the concept will prove to be and the number of turbines that would be required to meet all of the island's electrical, heating and potential transportation needs.   If successful, the next step is to introduce the heaters to more island households and develop a sophisticated power and storage control system; providing information on the long term potential of wind power in the process.

The island experiment is already yielding preliminary data as to how Maine can potentially harness offshore wind to generate the thousands of megawatts of power needed to meet the state’s energy requirements and substantially reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Proponents believe there will be much greater tolerance of turbine noise when the promise of reduced energy bills, elimination of oil burners and cheap transportation are delivered, all while protecting the environment.

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