Berlin Eyes First Wind Turbine

BERLIN — Dependent upon the reaction from residents, the Berlin skyline could see an interesting change next year with the potential addition of a unique 85 foot tall wind turbine.

“It will be a DC [direct current] machine, the first of its kind in this capacity ever installed,” said creator Doug Richards of DDU Magnetics.

Richards pitched the 50-kilowatt turbine to the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday night. After several years developing the machine, Richards is looking for a location to install a turbine that could be used as a model for other customers. Because of his positive history working with the town, Richards told the council he would like to install his first turbine in Berlin.

Due to its prototype nature and the fact that Richards would use the turbine as a model for potential clients, Berlin is only being asked to put up a fraction of the cost of the project.

“This would be primarily funded by myself and my associates,” said Richards, “and the town of Berlin will accommodate us with the service drop, the service to and from the wind turbine.”

Between materials and service, Richards estimated that the turbine would cost about $125,000. Berlin would only be expected to provide the site and spend between $3,000 and $4,000 on set-up and wiring costs. Even better for the town, officials expect to recoup more than they invest in energy savings in six months, according to Town Administrator Tony Carson.

After those six months, Carson said that estimates have the town recovering about $6,000 annually in energy savings because of the turbine. Even if the turbine stood for 10 or 15 years, Carson admitted that it wasn’t a “huge money maker” but that it would allow Berlin decent energy savings while also showcasing the township as “environmental leaders” to the rest of the shore.

One concern that the council did express is the what kind of noise level such a turbine would produce. With the current location set as 113 Schoolfield Street, near the town’s substation, Mayor Gee Williams pointed out that the turbine would be in proximity to a residential neighborhood.

“What kind of impact, with noise, will it have?” he asked.

In response to Williams, Carson pointed out that the turbine won’t have a long-term lease and could be reviewed annually for issues. If noise was found to be a problem, the turbine could be removed.

However, the turbine could have a significant impact during those first few months, offered Councilman Elroy Brittingham.

“I’m talking about that first year you put it up,” he said. “I’m going to be concerned about that noise that’s coming from that.”

Richards assured the council that his turbine would not be a disturbance.
“The noise is absolutely minimal,” he said.

While wind turbines are quiet by nature, Richards revealed that his design doesn’t incorporate a gearbox, further reducing the sound it generates.

Even if the structure is completely silent, Brittingham and Councilman Dean Burrell both felt that feedback should be taken from residents in the area before moving forward. Just having to look at the 85-foot structure every day might bother some people, noted Burrell.

“I would really like to know what the neighbors say about looking at something like this,” he said.

Brittingham agreed, saying, “My concern, like Dean’s, is the neighborhood across from the station.”

Locating the tower behind the town’s electric substation might be one way to lessen the visual impact of the tower, suggested Burrell.

Utilities Director Tim Lawrence acknowledged that it might be possible to do that, but pointed out that the substation is 18 feet tall, while the turbine would be 85 feet. Despite the proximity of a few houses, continued Lawrence, the proposed site is favorable overall, whether the turbine is in front of or behind the station.

“Everything else is kind of wooded in that area,” he said. “You just have the houses out front.”

On the issue of noise, Lawrence told the council that he has been in proximity to even larger turbines than the one Richards is proposing and experienced total silence, even with the wind blowing.

Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward later confirmed to the council that, in regards to zoning, the turbine worked great for the town.

“In this particular case, it’s a great site, from a zoning perspective,” he said.

Though the turbine would significantly break the 25-foot structure height ceiling for its location, Ward explained that as long as the building is a publically or municipally owned utility and has an extra foot in set-backs from the road for every three feet of height above 25 feet, which the turbine does, then it is acceptable.

The council decided not to take any official action Monday, but does plan on having Lawrence and Carson brief residents in the area about the turbine and then return to the council with feedback in the coming weeks.

Richards predicted the turbine could be up by July.