Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A different kind of anemometer, on a different kind of island



I received a call Friday from an interesting Maine personality, George Baker, CEO of Fox Islands Wind, LLC, and professor at Harvard Business School.

George had just completed the commissioning process on the important Fox Islands wind project, a 4.5 MW wind farm out on the island of Vinalhaven, and Maine's pioneer community-owned wind project.

Vinalhaven island is home to one of Maine's signature communities of practical lobstermen, back-to-the-landers, and well-heeled refugees from the lower 47, a very quaint, sometimes twee, always fiercely independent kind of life.

Now they get to make their own power.

George needed an anemometer system pronto, to comply with a (somewhat) surprise DEP permitting requirement that a logging decibel meter and logging anemometer be installed to record and study any possible wind nuisance above DEP levels. If he couldn't get this installed, he might have to turn off the turbines, which would lose beaucoup money for the community.

As one of only a handful of folks in the state who have this kind of gear "just lying around," and an advocate for community-owned wind power in Maine, I was more than happy to help. Luckily, the call came at the start of my nine-day Thanksgiving break so I had time to help.

This resulted in a three-day burst of activity. The logistics, brain, and muscle-power involved in putting up any serious anemometer tower are formidable and stress inducing. Hundreds of parts, lots of details, a dozen specialized jobs each with its own special tool. Annoying knacks to several tasks that experienced guys just do, while the rest of us struggle for hours. Heavy physical labor. Cold steel that hurts your hands to touch in winter.

Add the slight further difficulty of a remote island site with a 75 minute ferry ride, and you can imagine the potential result.

This is one of those cases where you think of everything that will happen, and then think of everything that is likely to happen, and then think of everything that just might happen, and try to be ready for all of them, and the thing you didn't think would happen at all!

We had a fun-filled if slightly frenetic day. My instinctive response to this kind of stress is to slow down a bit and use my brain more, which I'm sure was frustrating for George, who's the kind of high-powered guy that juggles about four lives and six major projects, all successfully. A brain on overdrive, like a fast car.

Me, my brain is 4WD and works best in low range. An old Land Rover. 1961 Series !. Ex UK military. "As is."

I consider it a successful workday and a good time, if, at the end of the day, the equipment is installed, works, and no-one is injured or hurt. If it looks even likely that something bad might happen, I slow down and drop a cog.

Then I go home to my one life and slow right down some more.

The device we installed is 30 feet out of a 60 meter NRG TallTower system. We have an anemometer and vane at 30 feet, another anemometer at 15 feet, and a temperature recorder at logger height. Instead of cutting our 60 meter cables, worth a hundred dollars or more each (and there are 24 of them!), we got replacement cable in shorter lengths.

The system is installed in a somewhat sheltered location, juts outside the 1,000 foot radius from the turbine. It is designed to study the case or phenomenon in Maine that is somewhat common, where our high wind shears keep turbines running, but the low ground winds mean low ambient noise, and so the turbine is noisier than it would be in Iowa or Minnesota or Scotland where high ambient winds rustling trees and leaves drown out turbine noise at around 1,000 feet or so.

The day was fairly successful and we erected the tower without incident and got the logger running and even made the ferry back with time to spare.

Which means that the turbines can keep turning and making power and money for the islanders, and reducing climate emissions to boot.

Amen to that.

I couldn't take students on this project, all sensible students being safe at home for the break, but we can go back for some follow-up work in a few weeks time.

Students will enjoy the trip to the island. I did. When I wasn't working flat out.

3 comments:

Mark said...

Very interested in your instrument readings and findings. Are you just measuring wind speeds, or sound levels too? Very interesting project.

David said...

It always surprises me that investors will make a decision on the mega-buck project based on data from an amateur instrument. The anemometer has poor response and lousy bearings that don't hold up. Oh well, it's your money.

Mick said...

I'm not measuring the sound. A different consultant is on that. There are interesting problems related to the sound records and technology, which I'd be glad to correspond about off-line.

mwomersley@unity.edu

If the nasty tone of the second comment is anything to go by, we have some readers who are either anti-NRG or anti-wind.

I'm sorry that people can't keep their ire out of my blog, which after all is meant for discussion of science and educational concerns.

But that's the Internet for you.