Friday, October 17, 2008

UMaine gets more work for its watts

Bangor Daily News

Cyclist teams power new supercomputer in demonstration of efficiency

By Emily Burnham
BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — Muscle met machine at the University of Maine on Wednesday morning when the UM department of computer science unveiled its new ecofriendly supercomputer, recently purchased from Massachusetts-based computer company SciCortex.

The supercomputer was powered during the presentation by a team of cyclists from the UM Cycling Club and from a race team organized by Rose’s Bike Shop in Orono. The 10 cyclists hooked their bikes up to generators, which were connected to a battery on the computer, a SCO72 model that houses 72 processors, each of which uses just a half-watt of power. By comparison, a typical processor on a personal computer uses 100 watts of power.

“It’s all about energy, and the importance of doing more with less,” said UM computer science professor George Markowsky. “Computer science has always been at the forefront of energy efficiency. And there’s definitely an initiative at UMaine to keep things as green as possible.”

Markowsky and fellow computer science professor Phil Dickens were instrumental in bringing the supercomputer to UMaine. Dickens secured a grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase the machine, which will be housed in the High Performance Computer Lab that he runs on campus.

Processor speed has grown by leaps and bounds since the early days of supercomputing — when computers were the size of a school bus, and in some cases used up to 150,000 watts of power to run programs and cool the computer. The SCO72 uses 300 watts of power.

While the computer will be run in the future by a standard electrical current, Wednesday’s demonstration was designed to show how little power it actually uses.

“The fact that this computer can be powered by a team of cyclists underscores how efficient computers have become,” said Markowsky.

The computer will be used to share some of the groundbreaking research conducted at the university, including the school’s world-renowned programs in climate change and glacial modeling, in the new UM Science Grid Portal created by Dickens and his students. Animations and real-time visualization of scientific data will become accessible to the public — from scientists and academics to interested community members and middle school students.

“This is a way to share some of the outstanding research conducted here with the community,” said Dickens. “It’s a gateway to a large collection of scientific results.”

During the presentation, a TV screen displayed two sets of numbers showing the amount of energy being generated by the bicycles and the amount of energy being used by the computer. As the cyclists increased the force with which they pedaled, they eventually were able to power the computer by themselves. By the end of the presentation, most were red-faced and sweating.

“It was definitely a lot harder than I was expecting. It was pretty tough,” said cyclist Abe Furth, a member of the Rose’s Bike Shop race team. “It was comparable to biking up a short, steep hill, just for about 15 straight minutes. It was really fun — I wish there was some way I could power my house like that.”

James Bailey, marketing director for SciCortex, attended a similar presentation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to Bailey, the UM cyclists had a little more power in their pedaling.

“At MIT we didn’t get as much,” he said. “We’re not used to Maine standards of energy. It’s quite impressive.”


Friday, October 03, 2008

Fort Kent residents want windmill moratorium

Bangor Daily News

By Kevin Miller
BDN Staff

A group of Fort Kent residents is proposing a moratorium on industrial wind turbines within town limits until local officials can develop ordinances governing the enormous structures.

The group has gathered roughly 220 signatures on a petition seeking a 180-day moratorium on construction of commercial wind power facilities as well as processing of any applications. The petition would allow the Town Council to extend the moratorium or cancel it once Fort Kent’s zoning and land-use ordinances have been amended to address wind power facilities.

The petition is a response to a Texas-based company, Horizon Wind, which has been negotiating lease agreements with landowners in the Fort Kent area and in other parts of Aroostook County.

Horizon has yet to file an application with state or local authorities, but company officials have said they hope to build as many as 400 wind turbines in Aroostook. Using today’s technology, 400 turbines could generate enough electricity to power one-third of Maine’s homes on a hot summer day, although wind turbines rarely function at maximum capacity.

But the prospect of hundreds of 400-foot-tall wind turbines dotting the farm fields and forests of Aroostook County has generated considerable concern among some residents.

Members of the group Citizens for Responsible Wind Development plan to present the petition to Fort Kent officials today. The petition demands a special town referendum on the proposal, although the Town Council could impose a moratorium without voter action, group members said.

“Most of the people who signed the petition want this [development] done right or not at all,” Dr. Michael Nissenbaum said.

Horizon Wind, which operates locally under the name Aroostook Wind, has been quietly developing plans for large wind energy facilities in The County for several years. Company officials are aggressively negotiating with landowners willing to have a turbine, transmission line or other infrastructure on their property.

Company representatives have declined to disclose publicly how much landowners would be compensated. Annual payments apparently range from a few thousand dollars for roads or lines to several times that for each turbine, according to numerous sources.

Dave Soucy, a Fort Kent lawyer and one of the organizers of the petition drive, said industrial wind turbines have the potential to permanently alter the “quality of place” that makes Fort Kent special. While Soucy is increasingly convinced the massive turbines are inappropriate for the ridgelines and river valleys surrounding Fort Kent, he said it is important for people to make up their own minds.

“Given the size of the proposal and the effect it will have on the community, it’s not too early to get started” on that conversation, Soucy said. “Now, how we choose to deal with it remains to be seen.”

The petition states that Fort Kent’s land use laws are inadequate to deal with industrial wind power developments and that the town has a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents.

“Suitable sites and methods for wind power development need to be reviewed and identified,” the petition states. “Failure to carefully review and plan for wind power development will reduce options available to the town and may result in devaluation, blight, issues that affect public health and welfare, and environmental degradation.”

Horizon officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. In past interviews, company representatives have said they do not plan to propose wind turbines near downtown areas and that the public would have ample opportunities to comment on any proposal.

Horizon plans to build the wind facilities in stages, with the first project slated for areas west of Bridgewater. That project is expected to involve more than 100 turbines.

Marcia Spencer-Famous, a planner with the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, said this week that she expects Horizon to file applications with state regulators for the Bridgewater-area projects in December or January.

A moratorium on wind power facility also has been proposed for the nearby town of Wallagrass.

New York probes Mass. wind-power developer

Bangor Daily News

By Nick Sambides Jr.
BDN Staff

LINCOLN, Maine — As First Wind of Massachusetts finishes building a wind farm on Stetson Mountain and prepares applications for another on Rollins Mountain, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo continues probing allegations that the company dealt improperly with public officials in upstate New York.

Begun in July, Cuomo’s investigation probes whether First Wind and another company based in Connecticut improperly sought or obtained land-use agreements with residents and public officials; whether public officials received improper benefits to influence their actions; and whether they entered into anti-competitive agreements or practices.

“The use of wind power, like all renewable energy sources, should be encouraged to help clean our air and end our reliance on fossil fuels,” Cuomo said in a statement released in July. “However, public integrity remains a top priority of my office and if dirty tricks are used to facilitate even clean-energy projects, my office will put a stop to it.”

The investigation is continuing, said Cuomo’s spokesman, John Milgrim. He declined to comment further.

First Wind is cooperating fully with the investigation, company spokesman John Lamontagne said. The company denies any wrongdoing. In fact, it tries to be a good neighbor, occasionally assisting community relief efforts.

This week, First Wind split a $30,000 donation among four county-based community programs to help Maine residents handle home heating costs this winter.

The four programs receiving donations are: Aroostook County Action Program Inc.; Community Concepts; Penquis Keep ME Warm Fund; and the Washington Hancock Community Agency THAW Fund. All of the programs are members of the Maine Community Action Association Inc.

“First Wind strives to be a good corporate citizen in all of the communities in which we work. Part of that is giving back to these communities,” LaMontagne said Thursday.

Cuomo sought all documents concerning any benefits conferred on any individual or entity in connection with wind farm activity, plus all agreements, easements or contracts with individuals regarding placement of wind turbines, agreements between wind companies that may indicate anti-competitive practices and all documents pertaining to any payments or benefits received from local, state or federal agencies.

First Wind has seven wind farms operating, in development or under construction in New York, according to its Web site,

Steel Winds I, a 20-megawatt farm of eight 2.5-megawatt Clipper Liberty wind turbines, generates enough to power about 9,000 New York homes in Lackawanna, on the shore of Lake Erie. A 125-megawatt farm, Cohocton I, is under construction in Cohocton, N.Y.

In Maine, First Wind has the 42-megawatt Mars Hill farm operational and a 57-megawatt wind farm on Stetson Mountain in Washington County under construction.

Another 25-megawatt farm for Stetson Mountain is being planned, as is the 60-megawatt Rollins Mountain farm, which is slated to be built in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn if approved. The megawatt listings represent peak outputs.

Survey raises wood-heating concerns

Portland Press Herald

This winter, many Mainers will use outdated stoves or heat underinsulated buildings, a study reports.

By TUX TURKEL, Staff Writer
October 3, 2008
Nearly half of Maine households plan to burn wood to help stay warm this winter, but many will be using outdated, less-efficient stoves or heating buildings that aren't insulated to modern standards, according to initial findings of a new statewide survey on energy use.

The state-funded study, done for the American Lung Association of Maine and the Maine Centers for Disease Control, will be used in part to study the degree to which air pollution from increased wood burning might be harmful to public health in Maine.

On a national level, the American Lung Association has been expressing concern about the potential impact of wood smoke – especially from fireplaces – on people with asthma and pulmonary disease.

Initially, researchers wanted to explore possible links between increased wood burning, air pollution and public health.

But the survey was expanded to gather other energy-related information and to act as a baseline to study fuel burning, weatherization efforts and public health impacts in different parts of the state.

"We wanted to get a sense of how behaviors were changing in response to high energy prices," said Norman Anderson, the association's environmental health adviser. The survey of more than 3,000 Maine households will be complete by the end of the month.

Initial results were scheduled to be presented today at the lung association's annual meeting by MaryEllen FitzGerald, president of Critical Insights, the Portland research firm that is conducting the survey.

Record oil prices earlier this year set off a stampede to buy stoves and boilers that burn wood and pellets.

Mainers who burned wood in past years also have reportedly been reinstalling older units.

That concerns health officials, who say they recall neighborhoods choked with wood smoke in the 1980s, when energy costs soared.

The survey, Anderson said, could help track health risk factors over time.

Among those risk factors is the amount of wood being burned, the equipment being used and the possible improper weatherization of homes, which can lead to mold, carbon monoxide buildup and poor ventilation.

The survey also asked about preventative measures. Most respondents said they did not plan to have a professional energy audit, in which a trained contractor uses special equipment to find air leaks and heat loss.

More than half of those surveyed said they didn't see the need for an audit.

That suggests that people think they've done enough to weatherize their homes, even if they've taken only small measures, or that those polled may not be familiar with energy audits.

"If you don't know what it is," said Kevin Fay, the research director at Critical Insights, "it's hard to see the value of it."

Despite concerns about air quality, the survey findings generally are consistent with what officials are seeing and represent a positive direction for Maine, according to John Kerry, the state's energy director.

The move toward greater wood burning is cutting the state's dependence on costly, imported oil and reducing emissions associated with climate change, Kerry said.

The responses to weatherization questions, however, suggest that many Mainers might not appreciate the difference between taking elementary steps to tighten their homes and the more subsantial savings that can be realized through comprehensive insulation and air sealing.

"There's a distinct difference between winterization and weatherization," he said.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

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