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Small Wind Profile: Two Wind Turbines Supply Electricity to U.S. Border Station

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. initiated a program to expand and upgrade its border stations with Canada and Mexico. Federal agencies have aggressive clean energy and carbon reduction goals, and the federal government's General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for many of the federal government's buildings, including energy procurement. While the U.S. operates 168 border stations, in GSA's New England Region, there are 47 land ports of entry (LPOEs), ranging in size from 2,000 to 100,000 square feet. With more sophisticated electronic equipment being deployed in these stations, the electricity requirements are increasing.

Staff at the GSA Boston office had been evaluating the wind energy opportunity since 2001. The combination of the remote Jackman, Maine, LPOE upgrade and the availability of ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] funds led Roman Piaskoski, Chief of the Energy, Utilities & Environment Branch, to implement a distributed wind generation pilot project consisting of two Northern Power Systems 100-kW units. The turbines were installed in September 2010 but were not interconnected and on line with Hydro-Quebec (H-Q) until April 2011. With a measured wind speed of 6.1 mps (13.7 mph) at their 37-m (121-ft) hub height, the two units are expected to produce 400,000 kWh per year. The project goal was for the turbines to supply 50 percent of the Jackman LPOE’s annual electricity.

The permitting was relatively straightforward as the site is GSA property and not close to residential areas. It received Federal Aviation Administration and Maine Department of Environmental Protection approvals, with no public resistance.

However, as can happen with first ventures, the project faced challenges, even with proven equipment. H-Q had existing net metering regulations for generators < 60 kW and > 1 MW, and so the 100-kW turbines landed in H-Q’s "blind spot." GSA had initially considered 10-kW units until the Jackman LPOE was dramatically upgraded, and H-Q assumed that GSA proceeded with the original turbine capacity. With the two 100-kW units, H-Q required the installation of a remote shutdown system with a dedicated phone line. Factor in the language differences and less-than-ideal communications, and the result was a six-month delay between installation and operation. In addition, the installer implemented a special ice-melt system, which failed, caused frequent system shutdowns and eventually resulted in the need for a new set of blades. (Northern Power did not endorse the system.)

Since resolving these issues, the Energy, Utilities & Environmental Branch has been pleased with the turbines’ performance and Northern Power’s technical assistance and maintenance. Piaskoski believes that the pilot successfully demonstrates that wind energy can contribute to GSA’s energy and environmental goals through application to LPOEs in windy locations. He recently presented the project at the GovEnergy conference as a successful wind pilot project. While the decreasing GSA budget may not be sufficient to expand the number of LPOEs, an opportunity remains for wind to participate in the upgrading and greening of existing facilities.

This article was originally published in AWEA's Wind Energy Weekly and was republished with permission. It is one in a series of case studies included in AWEA's recently published Small Wind Turbine Market Report Year End 2011.

Lead image: Boston skyline via Shutterstock

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