Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer wind research begins

Hi. My Name is Rachel and I'm a former Unity College student now employed as a wind assessment technician on the "wind crew." I'll be posting here from time to time on matters of interest to me and the crew.

Yes, the Unity College Community Wind Assessment Program is up and running with another summer's field work.

Wind crew is not just a job. It's an opportunity to learn more about wind power and other alternative energies, becoming familiar with the pros and cons. Most of all, it's an opportunity to approach wind and other renewable energy and energy efficiency systems from a scientific point of view. All of us are here to learn.

Our job is not to advocate for wind power, but to gather, store, analyze and disseminate data that will be useful to the residents of Maine and to our leaders in the state house and town offices around the state when considering renewable energy systems.

The data will provide information for political leaders and the general public to use to identify the best possible placement for community-owned wind turbines across the state of Maine: those sites that would be most economically viable and provide the least noise and other impacts for neighbors. By doing so we also rule out literally hundreds of other sites, saving planning effort and reducing costs to the general public. We also provide advice to landowners and the general public whenever a wind energy system is not the best use of their available energy dollars. Often an energy efficiency measure will save more money and energy than can made on a given site with a wind power system. In most cases a solar power system will work better than a wind system, but a minority of sites have the wind to make lots of energy and money. In any case, the landowner needs good, solid, scientific advice.

Finally, we provide scientific data and an understanding of what Maine's wind actually does that will help Mainers understand, mitigate, or avoid the impacts of commercial scale wind farms.

Our first day of work was Monday.

"Training Day."

We began in the morning by going over safety procedures, learning how to use our special anemometry equipment. In the afternoon, we visited two sites in the area that already have wind turbines. The first site was Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association located in Unity Maine, most widely known as MOFGA. They had a Bergey 10KW wind turbine donated to them several years ago, and have since placed it on the highest point of land available to them. MOFGA facilities manager and renewable energy tinkerer Verne LeCount met us underneath his turbine and gave us a tour. We were able to check out the noise output of the turbine with our new hand-held decibel meter.

The second site we visited, Beaver Ridge wind farm, located in Freedom, Maine has three Generel Electric 1.5 MW turbines. This site has been somewhat controversial with the residents of Freedom, because the noise emitted by the turbines after they were commissioned was much greater than was represented during the planning process.

Mick explained the science of turbine noise in Maine, something to do with the "wind shear factor." Apparently, if you don't know your wind shear factor, then you can't accurately predict turbine noise. Wind shear factor is one of the metrics the wind crew measures with our equipment.

We were joined by a planning board member from a nearby town that is studying an application for a slightly larger wind farm. These wind turbines are much larger in scale than the Bergey we visited at the MOFGA site. The noise was distinctly noticeable at the Beaver Ridge site.

Here are some pictures of the wind crew at work in previous years. There'll be new pictures and video just as soon as I've figured out how to post it.

Stay tuned for more Wind assessment updates!

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