Advertise - -->Subscribe Online --> - -->Manage Subscription --> - Contact Us - Online Edition - Business Directory - Web Cams  

No Rebate, No Wind Turbines On Rooftops At Commons

Posted in: Mashpee News, Top Stories
Aug 29, 2008 - 12:42:48 PM
Digg this story!

Printer friendly page

MASHPEE- The state’s suspension of a rebate program for small wind turbine projects has led Mashpee Commons to rethink its proposal to mount two turbines to the roof of the Talbots’ building in the middle of the commercial and residential development.
Douglas S. Storrs, a vice president of both Mashpee Commons LP another related development firm, said this week that in light of the suspension the developers are now investigating using the two small turbines, purchased nearly a year ago, at other properties in Rhode Island.
“What we have to look at is whether Rhode Island is in a better position now than Massachusetts,” he said. “We would like to put them up in Mashpee Commons, but the decision will be based on an analysis of long-term finances. These are not a quick-return investment.”
Mr. Storrs criticized the state for dropping the rebate program, which over two years has covered upward of half the cost of several turbines on Cape Cod and dozens of others throughout the state, saying, “It is not what you would hope a progressive station like Massachusetts would cancel. You would hope that they are supporting alternative sources of energy.”
He said he had not looked into the reason why the program was cut off.
However, according to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the agency that oversees the state’s major alternative energy rebate programs, the small wind initiative was canceled because the turbines it has funded are producing far less energy than originally estimated.
An MTC-sponsored study released earlier this summer found that the average energy production of 19 small turbines reviewed was only 27 percent of what the installers had projected. The actual production for the 19 turbines, which received nearly $600,000 in public funding, ranged between 2 and 59 percent of the estimates.
A $75,663 turbine at Falmouth Academy that received $47,500 in state money, for example, has produced only 17 percent of the projected energy in the year since its installation. Another, smaller device in Bourne is producing only 15 percent of the originally estimated energy.
The MTC blamed the underperformance generally on inaccurate information provided by manufacturers and poor siting of the turbines, as well as inaccurate wind speed estimates and inefficiencies in wiring and other equipment.
The MTC grants are generally considered to be critical to the financial viability of wind turbines and other alternative energy projects.
Megan Amsler, executive director of the Falmouth-based Cape and Islands Self-Reliance Corporation, who spoke out against roof-mounted wind turbines before the Mashpee Planning Board, said the cause of the underperformance of many of the devices is self-evident. If the blades are not high enough above nearby obstructions, preferably at least 30 feet above the tallest object within a 5009foot radius, the wind becomes muddled and the turbines will not work, she said. The higher the turbine, the better it will perform, she said.
She said roof-mounted turbines are not high enough to be effective.
She pointed to a study by a British firm that found that some turbines in poorly sited locations are producing so little electricity that the energy draw of the electricity inverter, which changes the direct current electricity generated by the turbines into alternating current usable by homes and businesses, is greater than the energy captured by the turbine.
“It is like putting a solar panel on a north-facing roof, under a tree. It just will not work,” she said. “And remember, trees grow and towers do not.”
She expressed concern about wind turbines getting a bad reputation as unproductive, when the fault is not in the technology itself but in its installation.
“We need to get this right,” she said. “It is really about generating electricity, not just putting up something that looks good.”
Ms. Amsler, who called for stricter guidelines for the state grants, said she is part of a group working to revamp the state rebate program.
“If they are going to give out money, we want to make sure these things are going to work,” she said.
According to a June press release from MTC, new guidelines were to be announced by late summer. An MTC official did not return a call seeking comment.
The Mashpee bylaw governing wind turbines already requires applicants to prove the economic viability of their proposal. For its 10-foot turbines proposed for a three-story roof top, Mashpee Commons presented information from Community Wind Power LLC, the supplier of the turbines, and Cascade Engineering, which manufactures the Swift-brand machines. The simple data provided estimates that the turbines will each generate 2,233 kilowatt hours per year, for a savings of about $514 per year. Including the since-suspended state incentives, the energy savings was projected to pay off the $10,500 turbines in about six years.
The planning board granted the turbines a permit approximately two weeks before the state suspended its program.
During the hearing on the proposal two months ago Mr. Storrs told the planning board that the project was meant in part to help educate the public about wind energy. Town Planner F. Thomas Fudala said it would be informative to see whether the roof-mounted ones actually work. “Even if this fails, it will be useful information,” he said.
Mr. Storrs responded, “I know that sounds weird, Tom, but you are absolutely right.”
The catch in the state rebate program is only the latest in what has proven to be a long permitting process for Mashpee Commons.
After some research and a conclusion that the Swift turbines showed an improvement on issues such as noise and vibration and had a successful track record in the United Kingdom, Mr. Storrs said he first ordered the Swift brand turbines last year as part of a bulk order along with the Christy’s gas station in West Yarmouth.
But the planning board had already adopted its new turbine regulation, which, in part on the advice on Ms. Amsler, had prohibited the roof-mounted machines.
“The town was just trying to be responsible in terms of looking out for its residents, trying to make sure these things are not going to pop up everywhere if they aren’t going to work,” said Thomas Mayo, the town’s alternative energy specialist.
At Mr. Storrs request, however, the planning board then went back and reconsidered its regulation. After a public hearing featuring testimony from Ms. Amsler as well as from a representative of Community Wind Power who argued that the Swift turbines work well and as advertised, the planning board decided to change the bylaw and allow Mashpee Commons to move forward with its project.
The Mashpee bylaw requires a return on investment plan, a maintenance plan, as well as proof that the proposal meets several safety and aesthetic prerequisites.
Town Meeting adopted the new bylaw in May, Mashpee Commons quickly filed its application, and received a special permit in early June. During the comment period for the special permit, the state program was suspended.
After receiving the special permit, Mr. Storrs said he applied for Federal Aviation Administration approval, which is required for any structure over three stories in town. More than two months later, he said he is still awaiting that approval.
Mr. Mayo said the town’s application for FAA approval of a site under consideration for a large municipal turbine took six months to approve.
Mr. Mayo, Mr. Storrs, and Ms. Amsler all said the permitting process may be burdensome, but it is necessarily so.
Mr. Mayo and Mr. Storrs both said that Mashpee Commons is a sort of guinea pig locally, and that as other projects come forward, they will likely run more smoothly.
“Unfortunately for them, that is absolutely true. They are our first wind turbine special permit of any kind,” Mr. Mayo said.
Ms. Amsler said stringent permitting is important to make sure the turbines are located and installed properly for safety, performance, and protection of the customers.
She said the new “net metering” legislation passed by the state earlier this month may make neighborhood-sized, as opposed to single-family-home-sized, projects more feasible in the long term, but she said solar panels are a much easier and simpler technology. They can be installed and begin providing a predictable amount of energy in “relatively short order.”