Wind Energy: New Hampshire Needs Every Kilowatt

The record-setting use of electricity in New England last month should be a wake up call to anyone concerned about the adequacy of the region’s energy supply. Officials responsible for providing electricity, like the rest of us, held their breath and hoped that millions of New Englanders would use air conditioning sparingly as temperatures spiked and demand peaked.

New England managed to dodge the bullet. Thanks to global warming, cool summers in New England will soon become a distant memory. Now there is the grimmer prospect that all of us could be sweating (and freezing) in the dark very soon unless we start building more electricity generating plants fast — really fast. By now we all know that wind energy doesn’t pollute. The fuel is free. Wind-generated electricity reduces demand for costly natural gas. And wind power lessens reliance on politically unstable countries who gleefully sell us expensive and polluting fossil fuels. Even President Bush, an oilman to the core, now recognizes the potential of this underutilized, strategic natural resource. He wants wind energy to supply 20 percent of our nation’s electricity. What’s more important, and oftentimes overlooked, is that a sizable wind turbine project, called a wind farm, can be built quickly, oftentimes within months. Last year, 2,431 megawatts of wind energy projects using 1,650 wind turbines worth more than $3 billion were built in 22 states. And many of these wind farms were constructed in less than 12 months. During the first half of this year alone, 822 megawatts of new wind power plants were constructed in the United States. Here in New Hampshire, Community Energy, a wind project developer, is planning to erect 12 two-megawatt wind turbines on private land in Lempster. The Community Energy project is the first serious wind energy project to go forward in New Hampshire. Though small by comparison to Seabrook, this 24 megawatt plant could be operational by the end of next year. Community Energy plans to invest $40 million to build the Lempster wind farm. The company is also considering other windy sites in the state. In 2001, a 20 wind turbine project in rural Fenner, N.Y., was built in just 22 weeks. In 2005, this wind farm generated 63 million kilowatt-hours. Using fewer and more efficient wind turbines, the more powerful Lempster wind project will be generating more than 70 million kilowatt hours annually — enough for more than 9,000 New Hampshire homes. The Lempster wind turbines will be producing electricity when it is needed most, too. Electricity generated by the project can help meet summer peak demand, but also provide electricity throughout the year. But there’s more good news. New Hampshire’s unexplored potential for wind energy is enormous. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that as little as 3 percent of New Hampshire land area may be suitable for wind power development. That translates into five billion kilowatt-hours produced each year. One recent survey conservatively suggests that the commercial potential for wind power in New Hampshire could be more than 500 megawatts. Scores of Lempster-size wind farms of less than 30 megawatts could be carefully built in the state. Of course, the wind doesn’t blow all the time and wind projects can’t meet all of New England’s future energy needs by themselves. But wind power can make a significant contribution to the region’s energy supply. What’s needed to get wind energy projects built in New Hampshire? Developers of wind projects are relying on a regulatory approval process that continues to be fair, flexible and fast. The Lempster wind farm is currently under review by the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee and by several state agencies. If approved within the next few months, construction of the 24 MW Lempster wind farm could start as early as next summer. By the end of 2007, the Community Energy project could become operational and start generating millions of kilowatts-hours of electricity. And not a kilowatt-hour too soon. Quick approval of the Lempster wind project will set a positive precedent and send a clear message to others considering wind energy projects in the state: New Hampshire wants sensible wind energy development and is willing to make the regulatory process work swiftly and smoothly. Farrell S. Seiler ( )is chairman of the New Hampshire Wind Energy Association (NHWEA, 134 Main Street, Littleton, NH 03561-0693; (603) 568-4916 (cell); (802) 748-8060 (cell)) and president of Granite State Energy Consultants in Littleton. Reprinted with permission of the New Hampshire Wind Energy Association (NHWEA)
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