Windpower supporters numerous among Chilmark homeowners
While a controversial debate continues over installing wind power systems in Nantucket Sound, Vineyarders are showing more interest in putting the systems at their homes.
Chilmark has an application pending for a residential wind energy system, and two Vineyard companies that install the systems said more such applications are pending or in process all over the Island.
"Now there's such a surge" of renewed interest in wind power, said John Abrams, president of South Mountain Company, which designs, sells and installs wind power and solar electric systems. He recently installed one at the high school.
The Chilmark zoning board of appeals Tuesday night postponed consideration of resident Robert Green's application for a residential wind energy system as an alternate power source for his home on Old Farm Road. The ZBA did not have a quorum, so moved the item to its Sept. 11 agenda.
One model of a wind turbine. Photo by Susan Safford
Mr. Green described the proposed system as a small, residential 4.25-kilowatt turbine that he wants in order to lessen dependence on electric heat, which uses up to 10,000 kilowatts of electricity a year. The turbine is expected to supply one-half to three-quarters of his home's energy needs, he said. He also plans to install solar panels on his roof for hot water.
"We're trying to look at alternate sources of energy," said Mr. Green, who has lived on the Vineyard 20 years and lives in Boston part of the year. "It's part of the Island plan to become less dependent on oil," he said. He also predicted that more residents will be doing what he is doing out of concern for energy conservation.
The proposed system is a 105-foot tilt-up tower with an 18-foot diameter wind turbine that extends the tower height to 114 feet, according to plans submitted with the ZBA. Wind power systems are permitted in Chilmark under the town's zoning bylaws, although they are still called "windmills" in the bylaws. Conditions for the windmills include certification by a registered engineer, limited climbing access to the tower, a recommendation by the site review committee on height and siting, and assurances the structure will not interfere with the rights of abutters. The towers holding the wind turbine have to be above the tree line, zoning officer Chuck Hodgkinson said.
He also pointed out that Mr. Green's tower is unique in that it has a hinge that allows it to be folded down for maintenance rather than a ladder for that purpose. Mr. Green said the tilt feature can be used to lower the tower in case of a hurricane, although he said it should withstand a hurricane. It has an automatic rotor brake when the winds get very high.
Mr. Green believes he has met all the zoning requirements. The town's site review committee and ZBA have looked at the site, Mr. Hodgkinson said.
Mr. Green has hired Gary Harcourt, owner of Great Rock Wind Power on Martha's Vineyard, to install his residential wind energy system. In addition, Mr. Green has hired local civil engineer Kent Healy to design a structural and site plan for the tower that will meet all the zoning regulations.
Mr. Green said the tower will be 150 feet from his property line, more than the 100-foot minimum, and more than 500 feet from the nearest neighbor's house. During the site review visit, Mr. Harcourt said, Mr. Green flew a kite higher than the proposed tower to show his neighbors the tower wouldn't be visible. Mr. Green contacted all his neighbors about his plans, and one neighbor and another Chilmark resident expressed some objections, Mr. Harcourt said.
"We encourage everyone to talk to their neighbors," he said. "We want to make it a positive experience."
Although cost savings is an ultimate goal, Mr. Green said his wind system will not provide a quick payback. It will cost about $25,000 for the equipment and installation, and he predicted it will take eight to 10 years to get a payback. Wind turbines qualify for rebates of about 25 percent of the cost, as well as tax credits, Mr. Green said, but he hadn't figured out what all those benefits would add up to.
The rebate for a wind system from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is $2.25 for every watt of rated power, which, for a 4.25-kilowatt turbine, could add up to $9,600, Mr. Harcourt said.
"We're looking at the long view," Mr. Green said. He said the technology is getting better and the costs are coming down for the alternate energy sources.
The wind systems may be the start of a new trend as more Island residents look into them. Two other Chilmark residents have expressed interest in filing applications, Mr. Hodgkinson said.
Mr. Harcourt said others are pursuing wind turbine permits in Edgartown and West Tisbury. "A lot of people are really interested," he said.
Mr. Abrams said he knows of four more permit applications for the wind systems in process. He installed a turbine on his own property in West Tisbury in 1980, during an initial surge of interest in the alternate energy systems. He said there were eight to 10 wind turbines on the Vineyard in the late '70s and early '80s.
Many of those first generation systems are no longer in use, he said, but added, "The technology has changed tremendously," and he expects to be installing many more wind systems on the Vineyard.
Mr. Abrams was part of the Energy Resource Group, which drew up a model in 1980 for the wind system regulations for the Island towns. Most of the towns based their regulations on that model, he said.