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Wind turbine generates buzz at Portsmouth Abbey

Brother Joseph describes the wind turbine that he hopes will be built near the hockey rink at Portsmouth Abbey School.

PORTSMOUTH -- The prospect of a small commercial wind turbine is stirring excitement at Portsmouth Abbey School. Officials are prepared to move forward with the $1.25-million energy project and hope to raise the turbine during the next school year.
If the town is receptive to its plans, Portsmouth Abbey would join just a handful of schools nationwide to power their campus with a commercial wind turbine and would be the first in New England.
"I figure if I can sell this to the monks I can sell this to anybody," said Brother Joseph Byron.
After studies, surveys and a presentation made by a group of architecture students at Roger Williams University, Brother Joseph and his colleagues found wind energy not only an intriguing proposition but ideal for the 500-acre school.
A small wind turbine used to call Portsmouth Abbey home until the 1970s when it was relocated to Prescott Farm. Brother Joseph calls the campus a prime location for wind energy since it is wide open southwest breezes prevailing off the bay.
"Our costs of oil and electricity are going through the roof -- particularly oil this year," Brother Joseph said.
And with a $450,000 renewable energy grant from the state, school officials say wind energy makes financial and environmental sense.
The benefits
Portsmouth Abbey School currently drops more than $200,000 on electricity per year -- a rate of 9 cents per kilowatt. The school consumes approximately 2 million kWh per year and the proposed wind turbine would supply half of that. And any excess energy generated would be shared with the greater community through the electric grid.
The wind turbine has a life expectancy of 25 years and Brother Joseph thinks the project would begin paying dividends after five years. Part of the plan is to use the turbine to produce heat as well, thus easing the school's reliance on oil.
"It's a drop in the bucket but whatever it produces is heat we're not buying from any coal or oil plant," said Kathy Heydt, director of communications at Portsmouth Abbey.
The wind turbine would also serve as an educational tool, providing a live feed online with meteorology, physics and engineering data.
School officials say the project is a balancing act between its benefits and campus aesthetics.
Size does matter
Based on energy uses and wind data provided by a meteorological monitoring pole situated on the west end of campus, the school selected the Vestas V-47 model. The Denmark-based company has approximately 2,000 of its turbines operating in North America including one in Hull, Mass.
"Our plan is only to have one machine and one machine just large enough to do the job," Brother Joseph said.
The V-47 stands 164 feet tall -- 47 feet higher than Six Flags New England's Batman rollercoaster. It begins with a 12-foot concrete pedestal working its way up with a steel tubular tower equipped with an internal staircase. Three 77-foot blades dominate the top of the structure.
"What most people have seen are large commercial wind turbines. This will be about one third of the size of those," Ms. Heydt said.
School officials are optimistic that residents are receptive to renewable energy.
A few hurdles to jump
Last December Brother Joseph went door-to-door and invited neighbors to Portsmouth Abbey. He introduced them to wind energy plans and he listened to their concerns -- the most common being interference with satellite television.
He said abutters were receptive to the proposed location of the V-47, which would lie across from the hockey rink alongside the parking lot. The area is the highest point on campus and establishes a 650-foot buffer from Cory's Lane.
On Thursday, April 21, the school will appear before the Portsmouth Zoning Board of Review to request a special-use permit and variance. The wind turbine must also be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which will likely require a light fixture to alert aircraft.
"It's a tough decision for the town. And it's the same tough decision we faced here -- are the benefits going to outweigh the height of this thing? ... But it's pretty clear that we really care about the look of this place," Brother Joseph said.
Vestas V-47 Wind Turbine
Portsmouth Abbey School hopes to begin reaping the benefits of a wind turbine for the 2005-06 school year. The proposed model, a third smaller than commercial turbines, is expected to generate approximately half of the school's electricity.
* Height: 164 feet
* Weight: 157,000 lbs.
* Blade length: 77 feet
* Turbine base: 12-foot diameter
* Power output: 660 kilowatts
* Energy output: 1.2 million kWh
* Noise level: 45 decibels (or less)
* Life expectancy: 25 years
* Project cost: $1.25 million
Schools with wind energy
If town and FAA approvals are met, the Portsmouth Abbey School would join just a handful of schools nationwide that power their campus with small commercial wind turbines -- and the only school in the northeast to do so. Here are the other schools implementing the alternative energy source.
* Forest City, Iowa: A 600 kW wind turbine powers their school district.
* Spirit Lake, Iowa: A 250 kW wind turbine was erected at Spirit Lake Elementary School in 2001.
* Eldora, Iowa: A 750 kW wind turbine installed at Eldora-New Providence High School in 2002 now powers all buildings within the school district.
* Lac qui Parle, Minn.: A .225 Mw wind turbine powers the Lac qui Parle Valley High School.

by Jason Turcotte
photo by Dan Hunt

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Oh ye winds!
Editorial by Bruce Burdett

'Oh ye ice and snow,' reads the sign at one end of the Portsmouth Abbey hockey rink. Perhaps now the school should add "wind" to that old blessing. Not content to merely bemoan the brutal cost of electricity and oil, the school is looking to the wind for help. It hopes to erect a wind turbine on high ground at its waterfront campus. That turbine could reduce by half the school's $200,000 annual electric bill. It should also cut into heating costs a bit.
Like wind power advocates in Westport (about whose search he had read), the Abbey's Brother Joseph Bryon was inspired in part by the example of Hull, Mass. The coastal town just north of Boston erected a wind turbine out on Windmill Point. Since then, the three spinning blades have churned out over $500 worth of electricity a day on average, enough to power all the town's street lights, stoplights and then some.
Brother Joseph takes his pitch to Portsmouth's Zoning Board of Review next Thursday where we hope the request for considerable height variance (the turbine would stand 164 feet tall) is greeted warmly. He is well aware that wind turbines can stir controversy. In Hull, naysayers (most of them neighbors) predicted that Hull would rue the day it ever contemplated a wind turbine. It would be ugly and loud, they said, would kill birds and would mess up TV reception. They warned that it would break down and would certainly never make a dime. Wrong on all counts (although beauty is in the eye of the beholder). As a Westport delegation learned, the thing is quiet, reliable, has no record of bird kills and there have been no TV reception complaints.
It would indeed be tall, but there is a certain beauty in a machine that captures a resource we enjoy in abundance and harnesses that energy to reduce dependence on the likes of OPEC or Brayton Point's coal fumes.
May the Abbey be blessed with an accommodating zoning board and neighbors, fair winds and abundant imitators.


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