Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bringing the solution home

A 57 megawatt wind power project has been approved for Maine's Washington County, and the 38 turbines could start spinning within a year. This is great news, of course, but, like many of Maine's proposed wind power projects, this one is going to be in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles away from where most people will use the electricity they generate.

This a bit unfortunate - the wind energy generated will lose a significant chunk of its power during its delivery over hundreds of miles of transmission lines - but this is how the politics of wind power work in the post-industrial state of Maine, where our primary industry now consists of simultaneously coddling the egos and satisfying the appetites of retiring baby boomers.

Putting wind turbines in a working forest near a major ski resort and hundreds of second homes (as the beat-up Black Nubble wind project proposes) is an unacceptable violation of "pristine wilderness," but putting wind turbines in a real wilderness, far away and out of sight from rich retirees' vacation homes and resorts, garners the endorsement of every "environmental" organization in the state, even though the big transmission costs will substantially dent the project's benefits.

How closely we rely on our natural resources in Maine is something that most people, honestly or not, say that they admire about our state. Who doesn't get a hackle-raising thrill when some jerk from Massachusetts whines about the smell of fish from the quaint lobster pound next door to his new multi-million dollar cottage? "This is Maine," we shout. "This is our tradition of living off the land and sea! This is where food comes from! Suck it up and deal!"

The same protest should apply to people who whine about the sight of electricity being made - the board members and major donors of Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club who are dead set against seeing wind turbines through the picture windows of their ski condos. While we wait for them to resolve their blinkered environmental ethics (this could take a while), we'll need to come up with other solutions without them.

In Portland, residents are beginning to talk about setting up test anemometers on the crest of the Eastern Prom, where the peninsula separates Back Cove from the rest of the harbor. It looks like a fantastic wind power site, with open water to the east and west and a hillside that runs perpendicular to prevailing winds (the "wind rose" above shows the typical frequency and strength of winds in the area). Turbines here would not have to lose energy by traveling for miles on the transmission grid: here's a chance for the "Portland Buy Local" movement to make a meaningful move into the energy sector.

Plus, it's a highly visible site - as well as the home of Portland's first certified green building (the East End School). I suspect that most Portlanders would consider turbines here more a source of civic pride than an "eyesore".

Portland wouldn't be the first city to give a wind turbine or two a prominent spot: Toronto has one, as does the town of Hull on the eastern end of Boston Harbor, and the IBEW union in Dorchester installed a turbine right next to I-93.

So, is Portland really a "sustainable" city? Let's put our money where our mouth is by building windmills where the views are.


Brown said...


Another well-done post. And another good idea. A city-sponsored turbine array would be just the thing: Anton could make this one of his first orders-of-business, especially given his platform of increasing the sustainability of our municipal government.

Am I the only person who finds these things aesthetically pleasing? I don't know the scale well enough to say whether your representations are accurate, but they seem pretty close to me. Here are statuesque pieces of moving sculpture, active pieces of engineering, that not only move gracefully (some might say "languorously"), but replace some of the ugliest, dirties technology ever devised.

What could be prettier to the eye than that?

Brown said...

PS: That should be "dirtiest." And is the wind-rose a Google Earth feature?

C Neal said...

Thanks, Jim! I'd met someone at John's party who had been talking about putting up test anemometers - I didn't catch her name, but maybe we can work the new council from multiple directions.

The turbines I plopped down on Google Earth in the view above have 50 meter rotors, which are typical of 750 kW turbines - so these are on the small end of what's possible, and one big 2 MW turbine might be better than two smaller windmills.

The wind rose is just a basic image overlay, like the historic maps I've done in the past.

widgery said...

Agreed. Beautiful thing. But some of the cityscape is missing, or does the plan include the demolition of those hideous high-rises on the Hill?

Corey Templeton said...

Not only would it be good for all those obvious reasons, but it would be a good publicity stunt for the city too.

Turboglacier said...

Mr. Neal, tear down this Soviet-styled towering monstrosity of a high-rise apartment building ruining the view of the Eastern Prom from sea, and build us instead some inspiring wind generators! (And when you finish with that, tear down the Holiday Inn "By The Bay" and put something better there, too!)

Corey Templeton said...

apprently they are looking into this again

I look forward to seeing this from my living room.