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Wind Project Development Updates

January 14, 2013

As a result of the uncertainty caused by the delay in federal incentives for wind power, developers of commercial-scale wind farms throughout the region focused on pushing a number of large projects across the finish line, while slowing their investment in longer-term projects. As 2012 ended, a number of regional wind farms came online or were under construction, while others continued through the permitting process. Developers in the region are increasingly using larger turbines with longer blades, typical of a new generation of turbines more effective at reaping energy in low-wind-speed environments. And a number of community-scale wind projects, particularly in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, have been constructed or are coming online, representing an increasing diversity of turbine sizes and manufacturers. A sampling of project milestones throughout New England is presented below. For a more detailed view of the status of wind development in New England, please visit the New England Wind Forum Wind Project Map.

Wind Farms

Five major wind projects came online recently: three in Maine, one in New Hampshire, and one in Vermont. The Maine projects are the 60-megawatt (MW) Rollins Project (October 2011), Patriot Renewables' Spruce Mountain Wind Farm (December 2011) and Independence Wind's 50.6-MW Record Hill Wind (December 2011). The other two New England projects are the 99-MW Granite Reliable Power Windpark in New Hampshire, developed by Noble Environmental Power and owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy (late 2011) and First Wind's 40-MW Sheffield Wind Farm in Vermont (October 2011).

Four major projects are nearing commercial operation. These include Green Mountain Power Company's 63-MW Kingdom Community Wind project in northern Vermont and First Wind's 34-MW Bull Hill Wind project in Maine. Iberdrola has two projects under construction, the 30-MW Hoosac Wind Farm in western Massachusetts and the 48-MW Groton Wind project in New Hampshire. In addition, the 11-MW Georgia Mountain Community Wind project in Vermont is completed.

A number of large wind farms continue to progress through the permitting process, on a longer timeline to construction and subject to continued uncertainty regarding federal production tax credit incentives. Two projects in Maine, First Wind's 150-MW Oakfield Wind project and Patriot Renewables' 33-MW Saddleback Ridge Wind project, have received permits and had appeals of those permit approvals to Maine's Board of Environmental Protection denied. In April 2012, the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS's) decision to grant Iberdrola a special use permit for its 30-MW Deerfield Wind Project in southern Vermont was upheld by the USFS's deciding officer. The opposing group, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, responded to the decision by filing an appeal with the district court. In February, the Penobscot Indian Nation in Old Town, Maine, received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to complete the pre-construction activities required to secure funding for the proposed 227-MW Alder Stream Wind Project in Franklin County.

Some wind projects have experienced setbacks. In April, the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission finalized a decision to reject First Wind subsidiary Champlain Wind LLC's request to withdraw and re-submit a project proposal for the 69-MW Bowers Mountain Wind project. In late October, Champlain Wind announced it will propose a smaller, reconfigured project to the Department of Environmental Protection (see discussion in State Regulatory and Legislative Updates regarding changes in Maine's permitting regime). And Quantum Utility Generation's 42-MW Passadumkeag Windpark, originally developed by Noble Environmental Power, is currently before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awaiting a ruling on its permit application. Maine DEP staff recently recommended that the agency reject the permit application.

A number of earlier-stage projects have been shelved as towns have passed ordinances or restrictive bylaws limiting local development. For example, in December 2011, the residents of Frankfort, Maine, passed a strict wind ordinance effectively preventing further development on the Mount Waldo wind project (see discussion of other restrictive ordinances in "Towns throughout New England Acting to Exert Local Control over Wind Siting").

Community-Scale and Customer-Sited

The region, and in particular Massachusetts and Rhode Island, has seen a number of newly operating or soon-to-be operating community-scale and customer-sited wind projects. Examples include:

  • Several 100-kW Northwind 100 turbines installed, including one commissioned by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Kingston, Massachusetts (February 2012); the Camden (Maine) Hill Regional School turbine (March 2012); and one in Narragansett, Rhode Island, at the Point Judith Fishermen's Memorial (November 2011)
  • Town-driven community wind turbines, including the following in Massachusetts: Kingston Wind Independence's 2-MW turbine (May 2012); the town of Scituate 1.5-MW community wind turbine (March 2012); and the Town of Ipswich, which expects its second wind turbine, a 2-MW turbine, to be online soon
  • Projects powering public water treatment facilities, such as a two-turbine installation at the Fairhaven (Massachusetts) wastewater treatment plant (May 2012) and the Narragansett Bay Commission's three 1.5-MW turbines at its Providence (Rhode Island) Field's Point facility (October 2012)
  • Projects driven by private developers, such as the three-Gamesa-turbine, 6-MW No Fossil Fuels project commissioned in Kingston, Massachusetts (January 2012)
  • Customer-sited, commercial-scale wind turbines, such as Lightolier's (Fall River, Massachusetts) 2-MW wind turbine (April 2012), a Camelot Industrial Park 1.65-MW turbine in Plymouth (Massachusetts) (fall 2012), a 2.5-MW turbine being installed at Varian Semiconductor in Gloucester (Massachusetts), and two 2-MW turbines at Gloucester Engineering (late fall 2012).

The examples discussed here demonstrate an increasing diversity of wind turbine sizes and manufacturers.

While there have been several successful newly constructed turbines, the siting environment for wind power projects is somewhat more difficult in the face of increasing turbine size, which increases the distance at which turbines can be seen and heard, and widely publicized news of abutter noise complaints or gearbox trouble at a handful of community wind sites. For example, the 1.5-MW turbine installed at the Portsmouth High School (Rhode Island) has been idle since June because of a faulty gearbox. Because the manufacturer of the AAER turbine (which was not in widespread use) went bankrupt and the turbine is out of warranty, the town is faced with a large, unbudgeted expenditure to return the turbine to operation. The town council voted to pursue an arrangement with a private contractor who will assume responsibility for the repairs and future operations and maintenance of the turbine. Portsmouth's experience provides a hard-earned lesson to other community wind projects to plan for minimizing exposure to such unexpected costs through a combination of meteorological data gathering, turbine selection, warranty or service contract coverage, and insurance and maintenance reserves.

The Town of Falmouth (Massachusetts) continues to seek solutions to complaints about the community impacts of its two 1.65-MW wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant. In late 2011, the board of selectmen called for the convening of a citizens' group to explore options. More than a dozen community members, representing a variety of interests, have been participating in a professionally facilitated process, known as Falmouth Wind Turbines Option Analysis Process (WTOP), to identify and evaluate options for the long-term future of the turbines. Options being evaluated include operational curtailment, financial compensation to neighbors, property buy-outs, and dismantling the turbines.

Development Trends and Equipment Choices

Developers in the region are increasingly using larger turbines with longer blades, typical of a new generation of turbines more effective at reaping energy in low-wind-speed environments. Looking forward, these low-wind-speed turbines may open up a wide range of areas to wind development previously thought unattractive. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have tracked this trend, as shown in the following figure.

A bar chart showing the average hub height has remained around 80 meters since 2007, but average rotor diameter jumps significantly in 2012.

Source: Mark Bolinger, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Is Class 2 the new Class 5? Recent Evolution in Wind Power Technology and Implications for New England, September 2012.

LBNL researchers have also projected that such increases could increase the amount of windy land in the region capable of producing more than 30% annual capacity factors by three to four times (see figure below). Rather than suggesting that the region could support this much more wind capacity (there are limits to the amount of variable wind that the region's power system can accommodate reliably), perhaps the most important benefit of this technology evolution is the potential to increase the number of sites where wind can be appropriately sited without impinging on the values that limit public acceptance.

A bar chart showing Maine (and Connecticut and Rhode Island) benefits the most from turbine scaling because it has more low-elevation terrain with a suitable wind resource (amenable to scaling) and in contrast, the wind resource in Vermont and New Hampshire tends to be more concentrated along ridgelines, where scaling won't add as much potential capacity.

Source: Mark Bolinger, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Is Class 2 the new Class 5? Recent Evolution in Wind Power Technology and Implications for New England, September 2012.

Two other trends are becoming apparent in the region: increasing diversity of individual wind turbine sizes (capacity ratings) and manufacturers. In addition to General Electric and Vestas (manufacturers who dominated the earlier developments) are major vendors, including Siemens (who opened a regional office in Massachusetts) and Gamesa. Joining Northern Power as new entrants at the community-scale and customer-sited markets are Massachusetts manufacturer Aeronautica Windpower; Hyundai (Korea); Sinoval, Goldwind, and Sany (China); Siva (India); and Kenersys Americas (Germany). Gamesa has also entered the community-scale market.

—Julie Jones