Utility poles offer small-scale wind power

By David Rattigan
Globe Correspondent / January 11, 2009
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Kellogg Warner said he spends a lot of time these days riding his bike around, counting light poles.

He counts the poles in parking lots at shopping centers, office parks, schools, and anywhere else there is space and wind. There are more than 60 light poles on the Nahant Causeway, he said, and more than 100 at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers.

In Warner's vision, all of the poles have turbines on top, spinning in the wind, generating energy and blending into the landscape.

"The big question to me is always, 'How many of these can you put up and where can you put them up?' " Warner said. "How big can you make the market?"

Warner is the CEO and founder of Marblehead-based Deerpath Energy, which has proposed putting turbines - featuring three blades with a 16-foot diameter - atop the light poles of the Nahant Causeway. As the turbines spin, they generate energy back to grid.

"It's spectacular," Warner said. "It will really change people's ideas about distributed renewable power."

According to Warner, each turbine provides enough energy to power a small home. The energy from several could supplement community or commercial energy needs.

The decision on whether the turbines will go up on the Causeway rests with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the land. Although installation is relatively simple, Warner said, the turbines require new foundations and poles.

Deerpath's proposal has gained support from Nahant's Board of Selectmen and Alternative Energy Committee.

"We thought that it made a lot of sense," said Michael Manning, a member of both the board and the committee, noting that feedback at a public hearing about the project was very positive. "When [Deerpath] came in, it sounded like they were ready to go and looking for a place to demonstrate it."

Similarly, Phil Giudice, commissioner of the state Department of Energy Resources, said that while the decision on the specific Nahant project rested with the DCR, the renewable energy concept sounded intriguing.

"I'm supportive of the concept," Guidice said. "The idea of putting the small-wind turbines in a good location shows promise."

If Warner has his way, the Causeway won't be the only place his wheels are spinning. He sees his concept executed in any place where there are large numbers of light poles.

In February or March, the company plans to install a single turbine atop a light pole at Marblehead High School as the company's first beta, or test site.

"We're going to be installing a number of beta sites, allowing people to interact with them, experience them, evaluate them," Warner said, noting that the company plans to develop a high school science curriculum related to the turbine.

Many communities and businesses have turned to wind turbines to provide supplemental energy in recent years, but even small turbines are hundreds of feet tall and require a large generator. The turbine blades used in the Deerpath system spin sit on a 40-to 50-foot pole, are 12 to 16 feet in diameter, and are relatively simple to hook into the energy grid.

The power output rating is 2.4 kilowatts. For comparison, the turbine being built in Ipswich will be 300 feet high with a power output rating of 1.5 megawatts, according to Tim Henry, director of the Ipswich Utilities Department. It is expected to generate enough power for 300 homes.

Similar small wind turbines are used at City Hall in Boston, and Logan Airport.

"Wind is one of the most cost-effective renewable resources out there, but it's hard to site [receive zoning approval]," explained Warner, pointing out that projects such as Cape Wind have met resistance from residents in part because of their size. "Rather than put up really big turbines, we're going small, working with these smaller technologies and integrating them into the community landscape and putting them up in large numbers."

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