BERLIN — The installation of Berlin’s first wind turbine has been delayed to allow residents in the area around the proposed location more time to study the project.
First pitched to the Berlin Town Council a little over a month ago, the turbine would be installed by DDU Magnetics and feature new technology designed by CEO Doug Richards.
“It’s a new type of machinery, electro-rotating machinery, and this will be the first commercial application of a wind turbine of this type anywhere on the planet,” Richards said.
The proposed wind turbine would be 90 feet high including blades and 66 feet high at the center hub. The blades would spin at an average 90 rpm and provide 10-70 kw of energy depending on the wind. Most importantly to residents, Richards promised that it would be nearly silent because his new design eliminates most moving parts, which are largely responsible for any sound.
“This will be a direct drive machine,” he said. “It won’t have a gearbox, which is responsible for much of the noise that you get from wind turbines. And this won’t have any gears or any transmission of any kind.”
While Richards’ pitch seemed to satisfy the council, several residents of Schoolfield Street, where the turbine would be placed, voiced a unanimous complaint at Monday’s council meeting: they felt left out of the process.
“This is the first real information on this wind turbine is what I’m hearing from this gentleman now,” said resident Linda Bowen in regards to Richards’ presentation.
Bowen asked the council why more notice had not been given before Monday, when the town was set to vote on signing an agreement with DDU Magnetics for the turbine.
“Why weren’t we contacted first to know what our opinion was on this?” she asked.
Mayor Gee Williams explained to Bowen that with the original meeting between the council and Richards in early December, no special notice was given because the town wasn’t sure if it would even entertain the proposal. When the council did decide to consider the turbine, Councilman Elroy Brittingham and Electric Utilities Director Tim Lawrence were asked to go door-to-door on Schoolfield Street to inform residents about the turbine. The story was also reported widely in the media after the initial meeting, including print and television.
Bowen admitted that Lawrence and Brittingham had been around Schoolfield Street, but she felt they had not adequately visited all of the residents or completely explained the scope of the project.
“I feel like we need more information,” she told the council.
A chorus of other self-identified Schoolfield Street residents agreed. Several concerns were mentioned, including how loud the turbine will actually be, how visible it will be, if it could affect property values in the neighborhood and how many visitors Richards expects to show the turbine to every year, since the plan is to have it serve as a model.
Richards again stressed that turbines are quiet and his design will be even more so. He estimated that maybe 1,000 people per year might be shown the turbine.
Using the turbine as a display piece is essential to his business, added Richards, and is the reason that Berlin is being offered the $125,000 machine at a fraction of its cost. The town is only expected to provide the land and spend between $3,000 and $4,000 for installation and wiring, money that Berlin should make back in about six months through energy savings.
The goal, said Richards, is to mass produce the machine and make it more affordable.
“We’re hoping to eventually bring the price point of this turbine down to $80,000, which is a dramatic decrease in cost,” he said. “That’s the whole point of this exercise; to lower the cost of green energy to make it commercially viable without any public assistance, without any government assistance.”
Williams cited the town’s continued support for alternative energy. He reminded the audience the turbine could save Berlin somewhere around $7,000 a year in energy costs and might be the first of many to be installed in the area.
“We’re looking for alternative means of generation for our electric utilities system,” said Williams. “Most of the new technologies simply are not cost effective yet; there’s too much investment for too little return.”
As for Bowen’s concerns that the council failed to inform residents, Williams stressed sending representatives door-to-door is “the exception rather than the rule” with town projects and is not required. Furthermore, he defended the job done by Brittingham and Lawrence, who both said they spoke to everyone available when they visited the neighborhood.
Still, the council agreed to table an agreement with DDU to allow Richards and town representatives more time to detail the project to residents on Schoolfield Street.
“We’re not trying to push this down on anybody,” promised Brittingham.