New wind speed data suggest more viable turbine sites in state

New measurements of Connecticut wind speeds show that many more sites than previously believed could be economically viable for wind power, potentially expanding the range where turbines could produce electricity.

The data suggest that with today’s taller turbines and improved blades, wind power could work even in lower-lying areas, not just the higher elevations in the northwest corner and a few other pockets.

“There’s this notion in Connecticut that it’s not as windy of a state as other states in New England,” said Paul Corey, chairman of West Hartford-based BNE Energy Inc., which developed the new data. “And that may be true, generally, but there are sites in Connecticut that do have sufficient wind.”

However, more potential wind farms sites could produce more local opposition. BNE has proposed relatively small projects in Colebrook and Prospect; both have encountered resistance from neighbors. The state has yet to approve its first large-scale wind generation project.

In preparation for its projects, BNE recorded average wind speeds much faster than some officials had expected based on government wind resource maps.

The revised information is expected to prompt new proposals and inquiries. It means Connecticut may be able to generate as much as 10 times more wind energy than previously believed, said Joel Rinebold, who as a state consultant wrote an economic analysis of these wind farms.

Prior to BNE’s actual wind measurements, Rinebold said, “people were relying on the extrapolated wind speeds. Now with the data, you will have other people, developers, reconsidering some of their actions to develop wind in some locations in the state.”

Rinebold is director of energy initiatives for the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. The CCAT pushes for business advancement on many projects, including renewable energy. Rinebold wrote economic analyses for the BNE wind farms, which, if approved by the Connecticut Siting Council, would be Connecticut’s first.

Rinebold said that no company has come to talk about wind as a result of the BNE speed data but that he is talking to two companies with different wind projects.

He also said that he is fielding a few calls per week from individuals who have heard about wind through local residents’ campaigns against the BNE project and want to erect single wind turbines to serve their houses.

In Prospect, BNE plans two turbines at 178 New Haven Road. In Colebrook, it proposes six turbines on wooded tracts on either side of Route 44, one near a town park on Rock Hall Road and the other on Flagg Hill Road. Each turbine is rated to produce 1.6 megawatts of power.

In addition to the finding of higher wind speeds in Connecticut, BNE’s Corey said engineering advances have made wind power more feasible in more places.

“There have been a lot of technological advancements, even in the last year or two, believe it or not, in wind turbines,” he said. “The manufacturers are starting to focus on states like Connecticut.”

Newer turbines include longer blades, which provide a larger “swept area,” which means more wind can be gathered at lower speeds, said Mick Sagrillo, a Wisconsin-based wind consultant.

New wind speed data notwithstanding, in-state wind turbines are not going to become a major energy source for Connecticut.

“At one point I had come to a conclusion that there may be somewhere between 10 and 20 megawatts” of wind power potential in Connecticut, said Rinebold, a former executive director of the Connecticut Siting Council. “Based on what I’m seeing now, that earlier screening was probably low. The resources now might be anywhere from 10 megawatts to maybe 100 megawatts.”

Even at that, Connecticut’s wind power could provide only a fraction of the state’s 8,000-megawatt summer electric production.

Wind power cannot compete with traditional power plants in volume of power unless they cover huge areas and include hundreds of turbines. The six turbines BNE plans for Colebrook, for instance, would provide 9.6 megawatts of power or power for about 9,600 to 12,000 homes.

By comparison, the future natural-gas fired Kleen Energy plant under construction in Middletown is a 620-megawatt plant that would serve at least 620,000 households. A fatal explosion at the plant site last year delayed the plant’s opening.