Monday, July 31, 2006

Something new in the wind for Saco

By SETH HARKNESS, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

SACO — A windmill should be catching the breeze blowing along the Saco River this fall, converting it into electricity and, it is hoped, a small savings for taxpayers. The Saco City Council voted this week to spend up to $8,000 on a residential-sized windmill to be installed at the city's wastewater treatment plant on Front Street.

Members of the Saco Energy Committee, who proposed buying the small windmill after touring a major windmill installation in Hull, Mass., in the spring, say they expect it to serve a dual purpose.

The 75-foot-tall Skystream turbine will be used to test whether this site beside the Saco River has sufficient wind flow to support a larger windmill like the committee saw in Massachusetts. Hull has two windmills, the larger of which is 330 feet high. Together they power all the city's municipal and school needs with some electricity left over to sell.

Saco City Councilor and Energy Committee member Eric Cote said he hoped the Skystream also would be a public-relations tool to help dispel the idea that windmills are noisy or hazardous to birds and bats.

"You've got to give people an opportunity to learn about the technology and become comfortable with it," he said.

Cote said he expects the test windmill with 6-foot blades to produce about 400 kilowatt-hours per month. That is a small fraction of the 600,000 kilowatt-hours used each year at the sewage treatment plant, but it should allow the windmill to pay for itself in about 10 years, according to the treatment plant manager, Howard Carter, who also is a member of the energy committee.

Considering the relatively small investment needed to buy the test windmill, City Councilor David Tripp said he thought it was well worth exploring whether Saco could follow Hull's example.

"It's unbelievable how much money we could save if we have enough wind to make it work," he said.

In addition to putting up the windmill beside the river, the energy committee intends to measure wind speeds at other sites around town, such as the old landfill in North Saco and the Saco Middle School on Route 112 to see if they are potential sites for a turbine.

The windmill project may be the most forward-looking project the city's energy committee has undertaken since receiving $300,000 in city funding early this year. The group's primary focus is basic energy-saving efforts.

The committee is working to put an energy-efficient light bulb in every light fixture in Saco's school and municipal buildings, a $76,000 project that is expected to pay for itself in five years, Cote said.

The group also is insulating municipal buildings and replacing power-hungry computer monitors and refrigerators with more efficient systems.

Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:

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