"Don’t hit any airplanes, you’ll get me in trouble,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse as the giant wind turbines at Field’s Point spun behind him.
Whitehouse was among several elected officials to commission the new turbines yesterday at the Narragansett Bay Commission’s Waste Water Treatment Facility at Field’s Point. He jokingly reminded those present that the turbines were in the glide path for T.F. Green and that he was the one who helped get the Federal Aviation Administration’s clearance for the project.
The turbines stand at approximately 360 feet, with red blinking lights that can be seen after dark to warn aircraft of their presence. The three turbines were erected in February but didn’t begin spinning until Oct. 24.
Yesterday, officials and dignitaries gathered to commission the turbines, which are projected to provide about 40 percent of the energy needed to power the facility at Field’s Point. At current electricity rates, the power supplied by the turbines will equate to roughly $900,000 a year. The turbines, which begin spinning when wind speeds hit seven miles per hour and stop at sustained wind speeds of about 50 miles per hour, will generate 1.5 megawatts of power.
Though it will take some time to figure out precisely how much of the facility’s energy is provided by the turbines, Raymond Marshall, Executive Director of the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC), said the first billing cycle showed the turbines provided about 50 percent of the power.
Marshall said the Field’s Point facility is one of only a dozen wastewater treatment facilities in the country with an alternative energy method such as theirs.
In addition to saving money, the turbines are anticipated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 3,000 tons a year.
“This is a happy day,” said Senator Whitehouse, who was joined by Senator Jack Reed in congratulating those gathered at the wastewater treatment facility yesterday. Both Reed and Whitehouse stressed the importance of continuing such projects in the future.
“The future is green, the future is innovation,” echoed Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who was also in attendance.
Whitehouse mentioned the hot-button topic of the impending fiscal cliff and said it is imperative to ensure that the Federal Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit is left intact. Without it, he said, the Department of Labor projects that construction of turbines such as those at Field’s Point will come to a screeching halt. The three turbines cost about $12 million, with an additional $2 million for wiring and connection and costs.
NBC began looking into the process of using wind turbines as an alternative energy source in 2006 as part of an Environmental Protection Agency-funded project. NBC then secured a $25,000 grant from the State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources to conduct studies on wind turbine feasibility at their Field’s Point location in 2007 and 2008.
NBC then set up meteorological towers loaned to them by Roger Williams University and over a 24-month period collected data to analyze the cost-benefit ratio of the turbines. Through their studies NBC determined where the turbines would go, how tall they would be and how many of them they should erect.
Though NBC originally determined a height of 400 feet per turbine would be optimal, the FAA forbade it because of the proximity to the airport. That’s where Whitehouse came in, making what those at NBC called a “well-placed” phone call to the FAA and obtaining the agency’s approval for the turbines to be erected at a slightly lower height.
In an interview late this summer, Jamie Samons, spokeswoman for NBC, said gaining the FAA’s approval for the turbines was the most time-consuming part of the process.
Vincent Mesolella, the chairman of the Narragansett Bay Commission called NBC “one of the most technologically advanced and forward-thinking facilities in the country.” Yesterday he recognized employees who helped to spark the idea for a clean energy source so many years ago. He said the implementation of the project has raised NBC’s consciousness about the environment and will help them on their mission for clean water.