AAPS: No Wind Turbine for Teaching

February 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

Educating Ann Arbor area students about wind power might still take place with funding from a U.S. Department of Energy grant. But that teaching won’t take place in the context of a demonstration wind turbine the city of Ann Arbor had hoped to construct with the federal money.

That’s because Ann Arbor Public Schools has informed the city that the district won’t be partnering with the city on the construction of a 100-150 foot tall, 60kW wind turbine on school property.

In a letter dated Jan. 30, 2014 from AAPS superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift to city administrator Steve Powers, Swift concluded: “I believe that it is not in the best interest of the District to consent to this project.” However, Swift’s letter leaves open the possibility of future collaboration: “I … sincerely hope that we may explore and partner on other City of Ann Arbor – Ann Arbor Public Schools endeavors in the future.” [.pdf of Jan. 30, 2014 letter from Swift]

While the concluding nod to collaboration is common administrative boilerplate, the wind energy project could still result in the kind of partnership it describes. Brian Steglitz is the city of Ann Arbor engineer who is managing the wind energy project and spoke with The Chronicle by phone on Feb. 10. Steglitz explained that the U.S. Department of Energy, which had awarded the $951,500 grant, has asked the city to regroup and consider how to proceed with the educational component of the project, even with no viable location to construct a demonstration wind turbine.  The USDOE has indicated that it would be receptive to using some of the grant money on a proposal that is simply an educational project, not involving construction of a wind turbine.

According to Steglitz, about $70,000 of the $951,500 grant has been spent so far. The educational project would cost significantly less than the amount of the grant. If the USDOE were to accept the city’s modified proposal, it would eventually need city council approval – to expend the grant funds in that manner.

At its June 17, 2013 meeting, the city council wrangled over expending some of that initial $70,000, when it deliberated on a $49,883 contract with CDM Smith to perform an environmental analysis (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – for constructing a wind turbine at a Pioneer High School location.

The council vote on that contract was not unanimous, with three councilmembers dissenting: Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1). Objections included the fact that the Pioneer High School site does not enjoy wind patterns that are well-suited to electric power generation. So some councilmembers were skeptical that the amount of power that AAPS could obtain from the project would be worth the investment.

According to Steglitz, CDM Smith completed the scope of work in the contract, and a report was filed with the USDOE. Steglitz indicated that based on that report, the project seemed like it could be on a path to be granted a categorical exclusion for additional environmental review. That became a moot point, when AAPS indicated that it was not willing to partner with the city on wind turbine construction. From Swift’s letter to Powers:

1. The Pioneer area is not considered a high quality location for this purpose due to low average wind speeds. It is doubtful that the operation of a wind turbine at this site would generate savings.

2. The maintenance support for the unit does not seem fully developed. Presently, only two repair technicians work for the wind turbine company in North America performing maintenance and repairs. I hesitate to be the owner’s representative for a high profile unit when it may not be repairable in a timely fashion. The unit also needs regular cleaning for appearance sake creating another potential scheduling obstacle.

3. The “ice throw” is an additional concern. In the winter the thaw and freeze process allows ice to form on idle blades. When the unit is set in motion by the wind it releases the ice in a random manner. The blade tips travel at up to 300 mph and ice thrown from the blades could create a potential problem.

The USDOE grant was accepted by the city council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting. The grant included a requirement that the city provide $484,390 in matching funds on the $951,500 grant – which the city expected to achieve through partnership with a third-party developer: Wind Products Inc., out of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The plan had been to locate the wind turbines on AAPS property, and that Wind Products Inc. would construct the turbines. Wind Products Inc. would have then provided AAPS with a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA), which would have given the AAPS some guaranteed minimum of power at less than the current market rate. The city of Ann Arbor would have been the recipient of any renewable energy credits (RECs) from the installation.

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