PORTLAND — A group interested in studying the potential for wind power on Peaks Island may have found a smoother, less complicated route to its goal.
The Peaks Environmental Action Team originally wanted to put a 190-foot meteorological tower in Trott-Littlejohn Park, which would have required a zoning variance for height. But now the group is looking to use an existing 80-foot tall former U.S. Navy tower in a nearby highland conservation area, which may only need a change of use approval by the city.
Peaks Island resident Sam Saltonstall, who is leading the PEAT effort, was scheduled to meet Tuesday night with the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee, which may have to issue a recommendation to the full City Council.
City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, whose district represents the island, said the Peaks Island Council will likely issue a formal recommendation to the city at its March 18 meeting.
Saltonstall said using the existing tower would require less equipment for the Unity College team that has offered to provide the testing for free. There are already several brackets that could support a 30-foot tower extension, which would measure wind speeds at two heights above the tree line, he said.
Saltonstall said the equipment could be installed within a couple of weeks after receiving city approval and the subsequent wind study would take at least a year.
Peaks Island Councilor Michael Langella, who has been working with wind advocates, said the island community will continue to be updated and consulted throughout the process. He emphasized that the future of the project depends on public support.
“It seems, and I underline ‘seems,’ that there is a general level of support for testing at this point,” Langella said. “(But) we want to make sure that everyone on Peaks, whether they’re summer or year-round residents, has several opportunities to express their opinions. We’re really making that an emphasis.”
PEAT first presented its idea to the island council on Feb. 11. The following week, Mick Wormsley, a Unity College professor, toured potential locations for the meteorological tower. He then made a presentation to the community.
Saltonstall said PEAT is expecting a detailed report from Unity College within a week and has scheduled another public hearing on March 10 in the MacVane Community Center.
City Councilor David Marshall, who leads the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee, said he has had several conversations with Saltonstall. Marshall said the committee will question the group about whether city money would be needed to move the project forward.
“It seems like a great opportunity for us to explore the viability of wind power on the coast of Maine and in the Portland area,” Marshall said.
Although Unity College has indicated it would perform the study for free as educational opportunity to its students, it is unclear whether insurance would be needed for the wind tower, and if it is, who would be required to pay.
“If there are going to be costs associated with it, we will certainly have to understand what those are,” Marshall said.
Marshall emphasized that the location of the wind tower doesn’t necessarily indicate the location of a potential wind turbine. Marshall wants to know whether the information could be used by other island communities and, perhaps, anyone looking to place a turbine offshore.
Saltonstall said he recently toured several communities that have wind turbines, a trip spurred by Internet postings by wind power opponents.
His trip started at a 50-kilowatt tower in Saco, which he said was the smallest and loudest turbine he saw.
His travel ended in Medford, Mass., where Saltonstall observed a 100-kilowatt turbine, standing at about 130 feet – the size often mentioned in relation to the Peaks Island project. That turbine is just off Interstate 93 near he playground of the John J. McGlynn Elementary School. The only noise it made was a small click, he said.
Meanwhile, PEAT expects to continue researching ways the island could use energy generated by a wind turbine. The group is currently looking towards net metering, where the island would be credited a retail price by Central Maine Power for wind-generated electricity.