Peaks Island wind test hits a snag, seeks new source for equipment, analysis

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PORTLAND — After months of wrangling over zoning, two wind power tests in the city will be delayed until a Public Utilities Commission program chooses its next round of recipients for free testing equipment.

A test proposed at the East End Community School by the School Department will be delayed until next year so the proposal can meet the requirements of the Zoning Board of Appeals, which must approve the safety and location of all wind towers.

Meanwhile, a community-backed wind test at Peaks Island’s Trott-Littlejohn Park has also hit a snag, according to Sam Saltonstall, who is spearheading the project.

Saltonstall said the island wind test was unanimously approved by the board of appeals on Sept. 3, but is waiting for equipment. The group had originally hoped to partner with Unity College to have wind measuring equipment up on a 115-foot tower and running by November.

That plan relied on the college receiving one of six wind meters being purchased by the state with $200,000 of federal stimulus money. But the plan fell through when all of the new meters were awarded to the University of Maine, which offers free wind analysis. 

“We are waiting for the request for proposals to be posted by the University of Maine and are hoping to get one of the six towers to be made available to those around the state with the strongest applications,” Saltonstall said.

The state wind program, administered by Efficiency Maine, the PUC’s conservation arm, lends equipment and pays for installation and removal, an estimated value of $10,500. Once a year’s worth of wind data is collected, the information is analyzed at the University of Maine. 

Efficiency Maine Deputy Director Tom Vrabel said he is working on a contract with UMO for loaning the six new meters, because it already has a working relationship with the university. The deadline for applications will likely be in the coming weeks and he said Peaks Island would be “pretty close to the front of the line.”

“Peaks has done all of the work,” Vrabel said. “I certainly don’t want to impede that.”

Saltonstall said the Peaks Island Fund contributed $2,000 to help pay for permitting costs and a safety report approved by a licensed engineer. 

Meanwhile, Vrabel said Efficiency Maine would like to strengthen its relationship with Unity College, but drafting legal agreements from scratch would take time. “Our job is to get these meters up and running,” he said.  

The Portland schools were one of the first two groups to be approved for the free wind equipment, but opposition by nearby residents prevented the plan from quickly moving forward.

The school district was required by the Planning Board to meet with the residents to hear their concerns about installing a 100-foot tower that could lead to a wind turbine, before it would change the zoning. That process took longer than expected and Efficiency Maine loaned the equipment to another community, forcing the district to reapply. 

The situation with the school district compelled Efficiency Maine to require communities to receive all of their permitting before loaning the equipment, and Sherwood said the district would not be able to meet the permitting requirements for the current application cycle. 

“I don’t believe we can meet the deadline for the upcoming PUC/Efficiency Maine grant application cycle, but should make the next round,” he said.  

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or