2012-03-08 / Editorial

Reasons Jamestown should consider a Taylor Point turbine


Seventh-grader Erica Smith of Stephanie Pamula’s Lawn Avenue School art class illustrated what a wind turbine might look like alongside the historic Beavertail Lighthouse. Seventh-grader Erica Smith of Stephanie Pamula’s Lawn Avenue School art class illustrated what a wind turbine might look like alongside the historic Beavertail Lighthouse. Lowell Thomas asked a reasonable question in his recent letter to the editor. Why should Jamestown install a wind turbine? Here are some thoughts and opinions.

Makes money: Unlike street maintenance, water supply, sewage treatment, school maintenance and most other town activities, having a wind turbine will actually provide money to the town as soon as it begins turning.

A business analog might be the opportunity to buy a rental property with no investment up front and all debt. The property is leased to a large stable company for 15 years and even after paying for the loan, maintenance and expenses, the town receives $100,000 a year for 15 years. At the end of 15 years, the town can either continue to sell the power or use it itself to save money.

Like a house there are some risks. Turbines, just like houses, need maintenance. In the case of wind turbines, it’s a specialized maintenance. Unlike a house, a turbine will depreciate over time instead of appreciate. After 20 years or so, it will need to be replaced or removed. If it’s replaced, it is likely the existing electrical interconnect can be reused. Wind energy technology will no doubt be much improved by then.

Hedge against future price increases: The price of natural gas is the primary driver of electricity prices in New England and, especially, Rhode Island. It has gone up dramatically in price before – dragging electricity prices with it – and could do so again. Because wind energy has no fuel costs, it provides a price hedge against future increases.

Local power: Distributed generation puts electricity generation where consumption is. That reduces the need for transmission and reduces losses in the system. By producing our own power, we will import less power to the island through the underwater cables. We might even export power back to Newport if demand is low and production is high.

Good site: The Jamestown wind energy committee evaluated numerous sites around the island and the Town Council selected a site near the Taylor Point sewage treatment plant. This site has room, is near a busy highway and is already being used for municipal purposes. Unlike most of Rhode Island, it also has a decent wind resource.

Cleaner air: Producing power accounts for about one-third of all air pollution in the U.S. By generating pollution-free power, Jamestown can prevent about 10,000 pounds of pollution per day – equivalent to taking 319 cars off the road permanently. You’d have to burn 812 gallons of oil per day to produce the same power.

The voters approved it: In November 2010, after many years of study and debate, Jamestown voters approved a bond for installing a wind turbine. What’s notable about this vote was that the project appeared infeasible at the time and the Town Council had thus recommended a “no” vote.

The voters voted “yes” by a small margin even in the face of these apparent hurdles. (The two main issues were the Federal Aviation Administration’s maximum height allowance and there wasn’t enough transmission capacity at the sewage treatment plant for a large turbine. Both of these problems have been solved. The FAA has raised the allowed height ceiling and an alternative interconnect option along North Road solved the transmission constraint.)

Positive symbol: Jamestown has many powerful visual symbols, from the Beavertail lighthouse to lovely pastureland, and from the bridges to the historic windmill. All of them are rooted in useful activities: marine safety, food and fiber production, transportation and grinding grain.

Adding a modern wind turbine that generates 4 million kilowatthours a year would follow this tradition. According to the Jamestown Historical Society, the historic windmill ground grain for 109 years before being abandoned in 1896. Perhaps it’s time to put our winds back to work for us to help solve today’s problems.

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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