In the tennis courts by the high school, cranes and other heavy equipment are staging to begin the disassembly of Portsmouth's wind turbine. The town has entered into a public-private partnership with a developer replace the current machine, installed in 2009, which suffered a major gearbox failure that took it offline. While it's a good deal for the town, it's still sad to see this device, which went up with such high hopes, coming down.
It reminded me of the last lines of Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies:
Und wir, die an steigendes Glück
denken, empfänden die Rührung,
die uns beinah bestürzt,
wenn ein Glückliches fällt.
Next Tuesday, the Town Council will hear a proposal to replace Portsmouth's ailing wind turbine in a package deal where a private developer would pick up the cost and pay back the Town's loan for the existing machine, according to an agenda item posted on the town web site.
Based on a Letter of Intent posted as backup, the private company, Wind Energy Development, LLC, of North Kingstown, would remove the existing device, pay the town approximately $2M, install a new 1.25 mW direct-drive unit, and assume operation and maintenance responsibility. In return, the Town would grant WED a 25-year lease on the turbine site for a nominal $1/year, levy no tax on the machine, and commit to purchase electricity from WED at the current retail rate from National Grid, with a guaranteed floor.
You can read all the additional details in the LOI, available on the Town site.
The following is a letter to the editor received from Doug Smith, who was a member of the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee involved with the wind turbine process.
The Facts About the Portsmouth Wind Turbine
by Doug Smith
As a member of the Subcommittee that was involved in the Wind Turbine project, I have refrained from responding to the unwarranted implication at the 24 September Town Council meeting, that there were some “mistakes” made by the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee (PEDC) in the planning leading up to the construction of the Wind Turbine in Portsmouth. To do so would lend this politically-motivated accusation credibility. That a subsequent proposal to have the PEDC investigate the decision-making process for “mistakes” was approved by all of our Town Councilors (two of whom are liaison members of the PEDC) was very disturbing. I have resigned from the PEDC because I feel that by accepting this proposal, the Town Council majority is trying to make use of the PEDC for their political gain. I refuse to be a party such manipulation. It seems time to set the record straight.
I believe that no “mistakes” were made by the PEDC during the development process. The fact is that all the steps in the PEDC process were open to the public and all major decisions were brought to the Town Council for their vote. Any major decisions therefore, were made by the Town Council after due discussion and public comments, which included those of the PCC. The process included analyses by respected wind energy consultants who noted no fatal flaws in the process and decisions. The entire process was freely open to public scrutiny and lasted well over two years. In a Town-wide referendum in November 2007, over 60% of Portsmouth voters approved of purchasing the Wind Turbine. A complete description of the process and its timelines, as well as the detailed feasibility study that was completed in 2004, is (and has always been) available on the PEDC website at http://www.portsmouthrienergy.com/windpower.htm
Since it became operational in March 2009, the Wind Turbine has netted over $400,000 in profits to the town after all expenses and loan payments were made. We would not have recommended this project if we didn’t expect to generate a constant flow of positive revenues for the town. Even with major repairs expected, positive revenues to the town are still anticipated in the future. Hindsight is always 20/20 and going back and reevaluating a process that started over 6 years ago is a waste of time. The Town Council and the PCC know this, but the PCC, with their constant flow of negativity about Portsmouth, is trying desperately to score political points prior to the November elections.
It is time that the Town leadership stop posturing for their political base and get on with either repairing or replacing the Wind Turbine gearbox or partnering with a private wind energy developer who might consider taking over its management. While I realize that this is a complex decision and that we need to get it right going forward, the Wind Turbine has sat idle for too long. A primary job of the Town Council is to make decisions, one for which this council has proven to be especially inept. Looking backward serves no purpose other than delaying a decision, something this council has done all too frequently in the past.
Full disclosure: I have been a long-time supporter of alternative energy in general and the Portsmouth WTG in particular and I serve with Doug on the Portsmouth 375 anniversary committee.
At last night's meeting of the Portsmouth Town Council, representatives of maintenance contractor Lumus Construction delivered the news that the town's wind turbine generator needed a new gearbox, according to reporting in Patch. The replacement would require disassembly of the nacelle, and could cost the town over $1M.
In a wind turbine, the gearbox connects the rotor with the generator. Like the transmission in a car, it converts the rotational speed of the blades to the appropriate RPM the generator requires. Inside the gearbox case are bearings that support the rotor shaft and gears to convert rotation, both of which are subject to variable stresses introduced by the spinning of the enormous blades.
According to a source familiar with the situation, about three weeks ago, a periodic oil sample report showed "high levels of metal particulate," indicating an issue inside the gearbox, and the turbine was taken offline to prevent further damage. After reviewing borescope video, images of the oil filters, and oil sample analysis, the source said, both the gearbox manufacturer and Lumus recommended replacement.
Yes, it's a serious failure. But it is neither completely unanticipated, nor is it necessarily indicative of hardware defects or failures in oversight. Cars have been around for a hundred years, and there are still transmission repair shops that do a good business.
Gears and bearings all eventually wear out. That's an unpleasant fact of life. Was the town over-optimistic in thinking we'd get something more like the industry's expected 7-to-11 years of mean time to failure? Yeah, probably.
It's a bad situation. We need to analyze the problem, assess our options, and determine the best way forward.
And all the hysterical haters who are – literally – crowing over the failure in the cesspool of comments on Patch should ask themselves: How is what I am doing helping our Town?
According to a story posted on ProvidenceJournal.com, the RI Public Utility Commission has ruled in favor of Portsmouth in an action that questioned the rate the Town received from National Grid.
According to the article, the PUC ruled "that the Town of Portsmouth has not, and is not currently, receiving an excessive rate for the output it sells back to National Grid."
|Wind Fest at the turbine!|
Come on down to the Portsmouth Wind Turbine for the Wind Fest from 10:30am-1:30pm today near the basketball court at Portsmouth High School.
|Wind Fest at the turbine!|
It's the Portsmouth Wind Turbine's first birthday, and People's Power and Light is throwing a party. This Saturday, May 22, from 10:30am-1:30pm stop by the basketball court near the turbine (at Portsmouth High School) for some clean-energy fun and games.
Get their early for free refreshments and t-shirts, and enjoy art projects, games, and folk music. You'll be able to talk with the Portsmouth Sustainable Energy Subcommittee to hear about how they made it all happen, you'll get to see the turbine up close, and you can chat with the good folks from People's Power and Light to hear how you can enroll in their GreenStart program to support more projects like this.
See you there!
|Hard to believe it was just a year ago...|
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Portsmouth's wind turbine generator going online, and according to figures from the Planning Dept., it is running at 110% of estimated production, and has generated electricity worth more than $550,000 for the town.
"Needless to say, we are very pleased with annual production," said assistant town planner Gary Crosby. "February, 2010 was our fourth month in a row of 100% availability with zero down time. As you can see from the figures, we have really hit our stride."
Portsmouth Economic Development Committee (PEDC) Chair Rich Talipsky agreed. "As expected, the wind turbine had some adjustment issues and operational glitches in the first six months, but after the adjustments were made, the project has exceeded all expectations both in reliability and power output."
|Source: Town Planning Dept.|
The wind turbine was approved by a 60% majority of Portsmouth voters in 2007, and the project was planned and managed by the citizen-volunteers of the PEDC Sustainable Energy Subcommittee: Talipsky, Gary Gump, Bob Hamilton, and Doug Smith.
Reflecting on the past year, Talipsky said, "The project team members often look up at the wind turbine and say, 'How did we do it?' And, when we thought about it, we came to the realization that we had developed the right chemistry between the citizens, the Town leadership and the project contractor that enabled an honest dialogue. It was the heart of a working relationship that brought potential problems and issues to the forefront early so that they could be resolved."
Now, when you drive along East Main Road, it just looks like part of the scenery. A year later, nobody remembers the delays as shipments were held up by load limits on highways, or the March snowstorm that brought construction to a halt, or the tense moments of watching the wind speed gauge for a break to hoist the final sections.
Talipsky admits that the PEDC does miss the drama, a little. "After laboring on the project for over four years, it was hard for our team to let go of our fledgling project and turn it over to the Town for continued management. But, that was the way we had planned for it to work. The wind turbine generator was to become a normal piece of Town infrastructure managed by Town personnel with an Enterprise Fund that would provide accountability on the costs and revenues of the project."
And with a half-million dollars of revenue already in the town's coffers (minus, of course, bond payments and maintenance), the team can feel good about what they've handed over. "We could not have hoped for a better first year," said Talipsky.
See a collection of all prior coverage here.
On Monday, Gov. Donald Carieri signed legislation sponsored by Rep. David Segal which enables renewable energy producers to get more credit for the electricity they put back on the grid. The bill overrides rulings by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) which meant municipalities like Portsmouth, with their own turbine, could only offset their top 5 electric meters. According to information made available by the Governor's office, the new law allows utilities to write a check directly to the project owner or municipalities can now opt to offset their top 10 meters.
Rich Talipsky, chair of the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee (PEDC), expressed satisfaction with the legislation.
"It is amazing how complicated something gets when a simple bill gets in the hands of the PUC, as we saw with their interpretation of last year's bill that limited our credits to only that used on five Town electric meters," said Talipsky. "I hope that the bill just signed by the Governor leaves no question in the eyes of the PUC that Portsmouth will receive full credit for all the energy the wind turbine produces rather than being limited to credit on some arbitrary number of electric meters."
According to figures published on the PEDC Web site, Portsmouth's wind turbine, in the first four months of its operation, has produced over 1,000 megawatts of electricity, which translates to $150K in revenue to the town.
"Portsmouth went to a lot of trouble in establishing a Wind Turbine Enterprise Fund to make sure the turbine's costs and revenues were properly and equitably managed," said Talipsky. "The new legislation option for the power company to 'write a check' to the Town for all credits and let the Town manage the credits is exactly what we had planned on all along."