Wind Spin: Farmstand draws buzz with wind turbine

Wind Spin: Farmstand draws buzz with wind turbine

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One hundred fifty feet from the base of its gleaming steel tower to the tip of a turbine blade at its highest point, Morning Glory Farm’s newly erected wind turbine made its mark in Edgartown this week.

Farm co-owner Jim Athearn stood in a whirlwind of construction vehicles, electricians, and employees putting the finishing touches on the Morning Glory Farmstand expansion Tuesday morning. Behind the outbuildings and greenhouses, technicians were going through a final checklist for the new wind turbine.

For those driving out of Edgartown on the West Tisbury Road, the new wind turbine generator is hard to miss. It stands in stark relief against the horizon and above the fields and farm stand where the Athearn family sells produce and baked goods.

“There was a lot of ‘wow’ about coming around the turn on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road,” said Gary Harcourt, who supervised the purchase, installation, and commissioning of the wind turbine. “But that’s a really short period of time that you can see the turbine. You pass the farm, you can’t see it anymore.”

Despite its size and prominence on the landscape, the wind turbine was not subject to review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission or any town boards. Mr. Athearn was only required to obtain a building permit.

Under Massachusetts law, wind energy projects are exempt from local regulatory permits if they are for agricultural use on a farm of five acres or more. No public hearings were required.

Numbers in the wind

The wind turbine was manufactured in Surrey, British Columbia, by Endurance Windpower.

The turbine is rated at 55 kilowatts, and is projected to produce 70,000 to 80,000 kilowatt/hours (kw/h) per year, according to Mr. Harcourt. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average home in Massachusetts uses 7,416 kilowatt/hours per year. By way of comparison, the new wind turbine at Morning Glory Farm should produce enough power to supply about 10 homes with electricity.

When wind forces the turbine’s blades to spin, the natural wind energy is transferred through a series of shafts and gears to a generator inside the hub. The turning generator produces electricity, which travels through wires until it connects to the electrical grid. The Morning Glory Farm wind generator will direct all its power to the grid, and the farm will get a credit it can use anytime during the year. The farm will draw its power off the grid just as it always has, except now, it should have about $18,000 in credits annually to apply to the bill.

Wind dollars

Mr. Athearn told The Times the wind project will cost about $200,000, and that government grants will cover three-quarters of the cost.The wind turbine is expected to provide two-thirds to three-quarters of the electricity needed to operate the 100-acre farm and popular retail farm stand.

The state’s Renewable Energy Trust awarded $28,500 up front for the project. “After a year of performance data, they will give you a rated amount,” Mr. Athearn said. The turbine’s energy production will be carefully measured over the year. The Renewable Energy Trust will award $.88 per kw/h produced during the first year of operation as a production incentive rebate. Mr. Athearn hopes the initial grant, and the rebate, will cover a substantial part of the cost. “We’re hoping that will add up to $100,000.” The United States Department of Agriculture also awarded a grant of $50,000. There are also federal and state tax credits that will reduce the cost to Morning Glory Farm.

Right now, the farm uses $24,000 worth of electricity annually, according to Mr. Athearn. With the wind turbine projected to generate about $18,000 worth of electricity, he expects the farm’s bill to drop to just $6,000 per year. If energy prices remain the same, the farm’s $50,000 investment in wind power will be returned in less than three years.

Eye of the beholder

“I’ve got a lot of favorable comments,” Mr. Athearn said. “We’ve had one second-hand negative comment.” He said in planning the project, he carefully considered the visual impact. He said the wind turbine is most visible when traveling westward along Edgartown-West Tisbury Road just before the farm stand. “Other than that, it’s hidden by the trees.”

Selectman Art Smadbeck said most of the reaction he has heard has been positive. “I haven’t heard any negative comment as of yet,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “Everybody bellyaches about oil prices and says we should find alternative energy. If we’re going to be serious about trying to deal with this energy crisis, this is one man’s attempt to help.”

Edgartown building inspector Leonard Jason issued the building permit and must issue a certificate of use before the wind turbine can begin generating power. Mr. Jason and others are curious about how much noise the turbine will make. The manufacturer claims that even at high wind speeds, the turbine would not drown out a normal conversation between two people.

Mr. Harcourt said the turbine was operating all day Tuesday. “Everyone’s reaction was that it was amazingly quiet,” Mr. Harcourt said. “To me it’s even quieter than all the small turbines on the Island. People were stunned how quiet it was.”

Carolyn Flynn, a neighbor to the farm, said, “I must admit it was quite startling when I saw it up for the first time. At first I thought it was just a huge construction crane before they put the turbine on the top, then when I came around the corner and saw what it was, it was a surprise.”

Mrs. Flynn said she did not hear any noise Tuesday when she noticed that the turbine was running for the first time. She said that she is not surprised that Mr. Athearn, a conservation supporter, would erect a turbine. “I just wish I could run off of it and reduce my electricity bills,” she said.