By Gail McCarthy
---- — The towering wind turbines rising above Blackburn Industrial Park have already translated into revenue with the city, clearing $60,000 in the first three months, according to Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
That was just one element of information shared Thursday night by Kirk and three experts at a wind energy panel discussion that prompted more than 300 Gloucester and Rockport residents to flock to the Sawyer Free Library for a panel discussion on wind energy.
Within three months worth of performance, Kirk said this year’s revenue projection for this calendar year will be $430,000. The only reason that is below the $450,000 estimate is that in the first few months of operation, there were glitches that needed to be addressed and required the turbines to be turned off. Once the operation is in full swing, Kirk said the city will be on track to meet its savings projections.
The city benefits because it partnered with Equity Industrial Turbines LLC, which erected the two turbines at Gloucester Engineering at Blackburn Industrial Park. The turbines were erected in November and put into operation on Dec. 31.
“They did all the work, took all the risk, and financed the two turbines for $10 million, and we collect the check,” said Kirk. “The more they spin, the more we get.”
Varian Semiconductors/Applied Materials, the city’s largest employer, paved the way in the permitting process by being the first to start the process of installing a wind turbine in Gloucester. Varian has the largest of the three. The motivation for both projects was their large consumption of electricity and a move to enter the realm of clean energy.
The Varian turbine is 328-feet tall and the diameter of the rotor is 328 feet. The other two turbines stand at 256 feet tall and their rotor diameter is 295 feet. The Gloucester Wind turbines weigh in at 683,433 pounds.
”The turbines seem to be the biggest buzz around town,” said Gloucester Ward 1 City Councilor Paul McGeary, the panel moderator. “We wanted to present everything you wanted to know about Gloucester’s new skyline. The turbines on the hill send a message to world about Gloucester. Those turbines signal that Gloucester is open for business.”
Note cards were circulated among the audience to submit questions for the panel. While most in the audience supported the wind energy projects, a few cards from disgruntled residents were also read aloud.
”I didn’t expect something like jets taking off,” wrote one resident.
But the major thrust of the Gloucester Lyceum event was positive, with residents eager to know the details of the project. In addition to Kirk, the panel was comprised of Rick Johnson, the facilities manager at Varian/Applied Materials and the Varian turbine project manager, Tom Michelman of Boreal Renewable Energy Development in Arlington, who presented turbine study highlights, and Sumul Shah, the CEO of Sloaya Energy, who discussed turbine construction and operation.
“It started with a cold call out of the blue from Bob Shatten from Boreal in 2003,” Johnson related. “He said ‘we think we can save you some money with wind turbines.’ They saw our electricity profile and ... we’re on one of the strongest wind production sites in Massachusetts.”
”Why our project? Because we spend a ton of money on electricity,” he said. Varian spends $3.1 million annually on electricity, and the savings from the turbine will be $1 million a year, said Johnson.
Varian went through two years of the permitting process, and would pave the way for the second wind energy project. The permitting process involved local, state and federal agencies, including the planning board, conservation commission, the FAA, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to name a few. The financial meltdown at the end of 2008 had an impact, but they forged ahead.
Johnson noted that the turbines mean a reduction in carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulates.
”We are helping the environment by avoiding fossil fuel generators,” he said.
Johnson also mentioned that the Varian turbine is monitored around the clock in Germany.
Michelman, representing Boreal, shared several highlights — and fielded a question about the impact on birds.
”On an annual basis, turbines get one or two birds a year,” he said. “Cats kill more birds.”
On the technical side, he highlighted the ideal conditions here that support the creation of these projects. One is that the industrial park already has a robust electrical infrastructure. He noted the need for height with wind turbines because the more turbulent wind is closer to the ground so the higher the better. Gloucester, located on an island, had ideal wind speed with its proximity to the ocean.
”Gloucester is special,” said Michelman.
Shah, of Solaya Energy, talked about the need for the large size.
”The larger the rotor, the more surface area to capture the wind,” he said. “Why so tall? Because wind speeds are greater at higher elevations,” he said. The height also helps to avoid the turbulence closer to ground.
He explained that the modern turbines don’t work like the windmills of centuries ago, when air pushes the blades that causes them to spin.
”While they may look similar, the way they capture the wind works in a different fashion. It works very much like an airplane wing. The blades are a special shape and designed to maximize the wind. Air flows faster over the top and causes it to lift. Air causes the blades to rise and that causes turbines to spin,” he said. “The blades pitch so you can adjust the speed of the blades. On a plane, you can see flaps changing to change speed, and the same applies to wind turbines.”
He went on to explain that the slow-moving blades turn gears that cause a generator to spin really fast, and the spinning generator produces electricity.
”They look like they are spinning slowly – about 20 rpm, a gentle rotation, but inside is the gearbox that converts that to 2,000 rpm,” he said.
A transformer is used to apply that energy to the local grid, but there are no large batteries to store the power because that energy goes into immediate use or goes into the local grid.
“The nice thing about this site is that it is so close to where (the energy) needs to go to,” said Shah.
Kirk noted that the projects here have come amid a movement to “go green,” and referred to the city’s Clean Energy Commission.
”The benefits would have been greater if we had city-owned projects,” the mayor said, “but I believe the municipality is not the right owner/operator of such cutting-edge technology.
”Based on some good advice, I felt that we needed some private industry to finance and partner with in some way so the risk is all taken by private industry,” she added. “In this way, the citizens of Gloucester don’t have to worry about whether public works is taking care of the turbines. They are being taken care of by experts.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.