Some Background on the Peaks Island Wind Testing Effort
In the summer of 2008, a small group of PEAT members decided it was time to stop talking about the potential for wind power on the island and do something about it. They decided to create a brief report for the Peaks Island council describing some of the possibilities related to generating electricity from wind. Then in November, a group of PEAT members heard Soren Hermanson from Denmark and George Baker, economic consultant to the Fox Islands wind project on Vinalhaven, speak at an Island Institute sustainability conference in Belfast.
We continued to gather information and add it to our report, and we invited Baker to visit Peaks and speak about the economic side of wind development based on his work with the Fox Islands project. Over sixty people crowded into the Inn to hear his engrossing presentation. However, Baker expressed skepticism that a wind project could work on Peaks, saying that Penobscot Bay has a more robust wind resource and citing our lower electricity costs through CMP. Erecting two 1.65 Mw turbines to generate roughly the electricity consumed on Peaks Island in a year would also prove to be a difficult construction and siting task.
But wind maps call our wind resource “good”, and we still felt it was worth testing the wind, potentially for a smaller net metering project that could turn the meter backwards for the school, transfer station and community building. We started looking around for the least expensive way to accomplish the testing, while continuing to update the information in our Report to the PIC, which we finally presented at their February workshop.
Through a contact at Efficiency Maine we learned of Unity College's efforts to set up a fledgling wind testing and analysis program. We contacted Associate Professor, Mick Womersley, the faculty member in charge of the program, and invited him down to have a look around and to speak to islanders on the process of testing the wind.
Womersley felt the best location would be on one of the World War ll naval observation towers. But that idea proved impossible because the land on which the tower is located is protected by a conservation easement which forbids the installation of temporary structures for more than 90 days. Wind testing must be conducted for at least a year, due to the seasonal variation in velocity and direction.
We settled on the idea of getting permission from the City to test the wind on its land at Trott Littlejohn Park, a sand and gravel area a bit lower than the naval tower located across Brackett Avenue from the transfer station. This land had no conservation easements, and had been set aside for some future community use. A community garden is now established on the same parcel. Wind testing at the naval tower would have been grandfathered in, but an exemption from the height restriction of 35' common to all zones on Peaks was needed for testing at Trott.
On March 25th, the Peaks Island Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the idea of testing the wind and asking the Portland City Council to do the same. PEAT had presented on our wind effort twice to the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee of the City Council earlier in the winter, and its Chair, David Marshall, was prepared to work with us to obtain the exemption without cost to us. A Planning Board hearing would be needed, followed by a vote of the City Council.
Meanwhile Unity College decided that a 34 meter meteorological tower would be sufficient, instead of the 60 meter tower originally contemplated. The uneven terrain of the park and the need for a small footprint due to surrounding conservation land made the taller tower impractical. Womersley felt that if we could compare wind data collected at the site with data from local residents weather systems, nearby weather buoys, and an anemometer owned by the Maine State Forest Service at the transfer station, we would have enough information to predict whether the wind resource could justify proceeding with a wind project.
on May 26th the Portland Planning Board held a workshop meeting at which it began to consider height exemption language that would allow a meteorological tower equipped with anemometers and wind vanes to be erected for a year on City land at Trott-Littlejohn Park. Several Peaks residents spoke in favor of the idea, none against. Of 27 written comments received prior to the meeting by the Planning Department, 24 favored the idea of wind testing on the island.
The wind testing amendment was passed unanimously by the Portland City Council a few weeks later. (You may view it as it was proposed in the “Documents and Links” section of this website. A performance guarantee was added by the City Council, assuring that the tower would be removed at the end of the testing period.
PEAT then applied for a conditional use permit under the new ordinance, which was granted unanimously by the Zoning Board of Appeals in August of 2009. A building permit was then secured. Both of these documents had to be renewed because of the unexpected delays described below
About the same time we received our conditional use permit, Unity College notified us that they had not received the needed funding to provide us a wind testing tower and suggested we apply to the University of Maine, which administers a competitive met tower loan program for Efficiency Maine.
After pursuing an involved application process, in November we were awarded one of the five available towers for wind testing to last 365 days. The tower was of a different make and so we had to commission a second safety report. Further contractor delays and insurance complications meant that the new 100 foot tall tower was not actually erected until late August of 2010. After it went up we put up a 6’ fence around the base of the tower. The fence is required by the City.
Since then wind monitoring has been taking place using two anemometers placed at different heights on the tower to record velocities and a vane to log wind direction. Wind data is recorded on a data logger mounted at the base of the tower, downloaded and sent to the University of Maine for analysis. When that data is shared with PEAT we will post it on the “Updates” section of this website. There is no opportunity for viewing the information in real time due to financial constraints.
Meanwhile, the City of Portland is engaged in the creation of a wind generation siting ordinance. The ordinance draft can be viewed by going to this link:
For a captioned slideshow of pictures taken during the testing tower set-up process, go to this link and click on slideshow:
Wind Testing Effort on Peaks Island
Peaks Wind Group
Peaks Wind Group is an offshoot of PEAT, the Peaks Environmental Action Team. We are drawn together by our desire to find out if the wind resource on the island can be harnessed for the benefit of the community. We are volunteers, not investors. We meet as the need arises, keeping a larger email list of interested folks on the island informed. We welcome newcomers to our effort (call 899-0922 and ask for Sam). Since January of 2009 we have sponsored a series of public information meetings with guest speakers here on energy topics, including the Fox Islands wind project, wind testing procedures and analysis, state energy policy, and solar hot water systems. We have made three additional presentations to inform the Peaks Island Council and the island community about our effort. We believe that these days, energy conservation and efficiency efforts to reduce the use of electricity must be a top priority, and that such efforts will make alternative energy sources such as wind more viable. The Peaks Island Council has endorsed our project, and we are working cooperatively with the University of Maine, Unity College and the City of Portland to realize our goal.
We hope to erect a 100 foot tall meteorological (“met") tower supported by guy wires anchored into the ground on three sides, making for a triangular footprint that extends 70' from the tower base in each direction. Two small arms will be mounted to the tower at different heights. This way, wind velocities at other heights can also be projected. Two anemometers will be mounted on each arm to measure wind speed, providing redundancy if one of them should fail. A small wind vane will measure wind direction. A thermometer will keep track of the temperature, which could help diagnose low readings possibly caused by icing. Every 10 seconds data will be sent to a small battery operated logger. This data can be downloaded to a computer and analyzed, and if we choose, cell phone technology could possibly be used to display real-time wind data on a website or perhaps at the elementary school.
The tower will be located toward the upper back of Trott Littlejohn Park, which is near the center of the Island across Brackett Avenue from the transfer station. Ideally, we would have placed the tower at a higher elevation, but the conservation easements on City owned land west of the park have made this impossible. The park itself is on City owned land without conservation easements and is the site of a community garden project. There is room for both projects without interfering with the recreational trails which run through the park. We chose this site because it is near the middle of the Island and therefore will not impact people’s water views. A future turbine would not have to be located on the same spot. (No decision regarding the location of a turbine has been made.)
The permitting process was completed in January of 2010. The University of Maine will hire a contractor to put up the tower, and we hope this will happen by early spring of 2010, weather permitting. Data will be collected for at least one year, after which it will be analyzed by the University of Maine in order to determine whether the wind blows sufficiently strong enough and often enough to make the financing of a small turbine project possible. Any decision about a turbine project on the island would be made following the analysis, and would probably involve some kind of community wide decision making process. Funding would have to be secured and the level of public support for the project would have to be substantial.
Electricity generated by fossil fuels pollutes, causing health problems and environmental degradation. As demand for oil increasingly exceeds supply, energy prices will rise and alternative sources will be in demand. Because of carbon dioxide pollution which causes polar ice melting, island communities are vulnerable to sea level rise, which is already happening at an accelerating rate. These and many other concerns related to sustainability are creating a market for alternative energy. Government is providing a variety of incentives in order to encourage its development. The wind is a clean and renewable energy resource. Technology improvements are bringing us quieter and more efficient wind turbines. There is potentially a modest economic benefit to Peaks Island from a community wind project. But in order to be sure a wind turbine is a practical option for Peaks, the wind must be tested first.