Web exclusive, October 29, 2009
Wind power group proposes Caterpillar Hill for test site
by Carolyn Coe and Elke Dorr
Approximately 60 people turned out at the Blue Hill Town Hall on October 22 for a meeting hosted by Peninsula Power to provide information about its ongoing efforts to develop a community-owned wind-power project. Peninsula Power is comprised of local citizens who are proposing wind-generated power as a source of local energy to be developed, owned and controlled by the communities the project would serve—Blue Hill, Sedgwick, Brooksville, and Brooklin. The community model is one used in the Fox Islands project, which culminated with the installation of three wind turbines on Vinalhaven in August of this year. What launched this grassroots effort “to form a community-owned nonprofit business to generate clean renewable electricity at or below the current standard offer” was a talk last March by George Baker, CEO of Fox Islands Wind, about the Fox Islands project. Peninsula Power is proposing the development of three 1.5-megawatt turbines to be placed on Caterpillar Hill.
Paul Trowbridge, director of Peninsula Power, described what the group has accomplished thus far, including forming a temporary partnership with the Island Institute. The partnership between the two will help Peninsula Power as it seeks non-profit status and navigates the first phase of the project—conducting an on-site feasibility study. Following consultation with Unity College faculty, the group identified a site on Caterpillar Hill in Sedgwick, and according to Trowbridge, the three landowners who live adjacent to it are cooperating with plans for the study. The group has notified the town of Sedgwick that it is putting up a meteorological tower.
Before the feasibility study can be conducted, however, community endorsement and support are needed, as well as funding for this initial phase. The cost of the study will be approximately $65,000, which would cover the installation of the 100’ meteorological tower, on loan from the University of Maine. Multiple anemometers will measure both wind speed and wind shear to determine the site’s suitability. After collecting data for a period of one year, the University of Maine will analyze the results.
Rick Deckert, a retired meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Service, said that a good deal of information about local wind speed is already known, with an analysis provided by AWS Truewind (a private company that conducts widespread wind analysis) and from the weather station on the Sedgwick Ridge, which is about 3.5 miles from the Caterpillar Hill site. The results of these records indicate sufficient wind. The height of the Caterpillar Hill site as well as its proximity to the ocean, Deckert said, is a benefit, as are the existing power lines nearby. A study done at the site would yield more specific data, he added. He emphasized that the proposed site would not interfere with the “view shed” of the Caterpillar Hill turn-off, as it is behind and above that area.
With reference to the Fox Islands project, Suzanne Pude, director of The Island Institute’s Maine Coast Community Wind Program, noted that island residents generally pay more per kilowatt-hour for electricity than do those on the mainland. The economic benefits to be realized, therefore, are greater for the former than for the latter. For example, Vinalhaven’s energy costs are around 20 cents/kWh, but the wind turbines are expected to decrease that by about 50 percent, to between 9-10 cents/kWh. On the mainland, however, the cost benefits would not be as high. Currently, the four communities use approximately 34 million kWh per year at a cost of 8 cents/kWh. The Caterpillar Hill wind turbines are expected to produce power at a rate of about 7 cents/kWh.
Baker explained that the idea behind community–owned projects is to “give benefits back to the community.” A critical piece of the decision-making process, he said, is to determine if “we can make it work financially and environmentally” and “contribute especially to the year-round community and to sustainability.” He also acknowledged that in order “to gain the benefits, a community must assume some of the risk.”
While costs for the Fox Islands Project currently total approximately $14.5 million, the proposed Peninsula Power project would cost less since the transportation of equipment would not be as difficult. Baker noted that funds could be raised through various sources, including community foundations, Rural Utilities Service loans, individuals and institutions. The Fox Islands project was largely financed with loans, including some from the RUS. At the end of the project, investors will be repaid at 10 percent interest. (They would have accepted a loss if the project were to have failed.) Some of the funding for the Fox Islands project came from federal stimulus dollars.
Peninsula Power estimates that to proceed with pre-development, or phase two of the project, approximately $500,000 will be required, which would pay for engineering work, legal fees, including permitting, insurance and administrative costs.
After the feasibility and in-depth studies are completed and if a decision to move forward is made—ideally based on the support of 70-75 percent of the community, including summer residents—then the third phase of the project would begin. This is the construction and operation phase. Baker estimated that phase three would take approximately two years, although he noted that the Fox Island project proceeded at “breakneck speed,” taking about one year.
Describing the details of Vinalhaven’s turbines, Baker said that from the base to the top, each of the three towers is about 400’ high; to the hub, each is about 260’ high. Just to deliver the massive cranes needed to erect the tower sections required 20 flat-bed trucks, he noted. Occupying approximately 30 acres of land, including set backs and distance from one another, the towers stand on a hill that is about 190’ above sea level. The rock anchors required to hold them in the granite on which they stand, Baker said, are about 40’ deep. While the terrain on Caterpillar Hill differs from Vinalhaven, the Peninsula Power project would involve similar turbines.
The life of the turbines and nacelles is about 20 years, after which reconditioning or replacement would be necessary. Baker said that with the Fox Islands project, money is already being saved for any unanticipated mechanical costs.
Aside from financial and logistical concerns, environmental concerns also enter into the decision-making process. Baker emphasized that avian as well as other environmental impact studies would be conducted for the Caterpillar Hill site as part of the process. During the feasibility stage, bird migration would be studied.
Another concern is “shadow flicker,” a pattern of alternating light and shadow created by the rotating blades as they pass before the sun. Baker indicated that this particular effect is minimal and amounts to “a few minutes per year,” and is easily mitigated, he said. He also said the effect is not detected from approximately 1,000’ away. Noise impact, yet another concern, has been revealed to be “profoundly low,” according to Baker, and is not a concern at a distance of one-half mile or more.
Baker underscored the importance of community backing before moving forward with a project. The residents of the Fox Islands overwhelmingly supported their wind project with a vote of 382-5. And this enthusiasm has continued through the construction phase. “The people of Vinalhaven lined the streets to cheer when the wind turbines wheeled by,” Baker said.
For Trowbridge, a recent state wind conference buoyed his enthusiasm for a local project. He learned that $5 billion goes out of the state each year. “We have a wind energy resource. Why don’t we make use of it?” he asked.
Sandy Cohen, another member of the grassroots group, said a local project could create a model for other non-island communities in Maine. “Once we set the example, other communities will be able to follow and our impact will be multiplied.”