2012-02-16 / News

What kind of wind turbine would work for Jamestown?


Eighth-grader Nick Musumeci was this week’s artist to depict what an island turbine might look like if it were constructed at Taylor Point. Students are creating their work in Stephanie Pamula’s Lawn Avenue School art class. Eighth-grader Nick Musumeci was this week’s artist to depict what an island turbine might look like if it were constructed at Taylor Point. Students are creating their work in Stephanie Pamula’s Lawn Avenue School art class. One of most important elements of a wind turbine project on Jamestown will be choosing the best turbine. This turbine must produce power reliably for 20 years as it is exposed to storm winds, salt air, hot and cold temperatures, lightning, power grid outages, etc. A wind turbine on Jamestown will operate over 8,000 hours per year. A car driving 30 mph would travel 240,000 miles a year operating that many hours.

Fortunately, wind energy technology has come a long way since the world’s first wind farm was installed in New Hampshire in 1980. (The first personal computers were introduced around the same time – in the late 1970s for Commodore and Apple. The IBM personal computer was introduced in 1981.) Just as PC technology has improved by leaps and bounds over the decades, so has wind turbine technology.

Today, better wind turbines routinely have availabilities of 97 percent or more. (An availability of 97 percent means it is down for repairs 3 percent of the time.) There are tens of thousands of them operating all around the planet. The first turbines were smaller and spun quite fast. Today’s turbines are much larger and take four seconds or more just to make one revolution. (Visit you tube.com/watch?v=03Tvo1iSqao to see what a 2-megawatt turbine in operation would look like from North Road.)

Height is our most limiting factor. The Federal Aviation Administration has told us we need to limit our height to 400 feet above sea level, which is about 365 feet above ground level.

Over the years, wind turbine manufacturers have designed larger and larger turbines to take advantage of the strong economies of scale. As manufacturers continuously introduce newer, larger and more cost-effective turbines, they gradually abandon their smaller predecessors. The FAA limit we’re dealing with eliminates some of the latest and largest wind turbines. There are still many turbines available that meet our height restrictions.

After screening for height, we will look for a proven turbine from a proven manufacturer. Ideally we’ll pick a model of turbine that has been installed by the thousands in diverse environments and done very well. Dealing with a manufacturer that has a high “fleet” availability is a plus. Unfortunately, since we’re only looking for one turbine, some manufacturers won’t be interested. Selling to large projects is more profitable for them.

The warranty and the manufacturer’s ability to provide service will also be key factors. Ideally, we’d use a turbine that has other installations in the region so wind technicians experienced with that particular model will be nearby. By choosing a turbine model that is installed in large numbers, it will be easier to get parts and service over the life of the turbine. We’ll also want to see some financial strength from the manufacturer so it is more likely to be around to service its product.

The financial analysis and photo simulations done to date used the Gamesa G87 wind turbine as a model. (The “87” refers to a rotor diameter of 87 meters – or about 287 feet.) This turbine is just below our FAA height limit, is performing well in numerous installations worldwide, and is made by a large company with manufacturing facilities in the U.S. There are 20 of them in a wind farm in New Hampshire and three more being installed in Massachusetts. Another potential candidate is the Goldwind turbine. Three of them are being installed in Providence. This direct-drive turbine is also just under our FAA height limit. Goldwind is a large Chinese manufacturer that is just beginning to sell its turbines in the U.S.

Fortunately for Jamestown, the wind energy industry has over 30 years of experience we can draw from. Even here in Rhode Island, the Portsmouth High School turbine is coming up on its third anniversary this March and the Portsmouth Abbey wind turbine is coming up on its sixth anniversary. We can benefit from these previous experiences.

The author is president of Endless Energy Corporation, a consultant chosen by the Town Council in December to conduct studies necessary to determine the costs and potential profitability of a Jamestown wind turbine.

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