Home » North Canaan looks to wind as an energy alternative

North Canaan looks to wind as an energy alternative

NORTH CANAAN — A plan to install a wind turbine at the transfer station is keeping its momentum with the Board of Selectmen.

They are being advised by consultant Walter Micowski of WM Energy Services to move cautiously and gather up to a year’s worth of site data. Extensive planning is key to ensuring success, he said, and may be a requirement for grant reimbursements.

But the selectmen are finding uncertainty on several fronts. Athough wind technology is not new, the wide variety of applications popping up are forging new frontiers.

The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (CCEF) is working on grant and incentive programs but seems hesitant to make commitments to funding or listing definitive requirements. Selectman Tom Gailes, who is taking the lead on the project he proposed, said he also has to wonder if the state’s budget woes are going to impact funding.

And so the selectmen have unofficially decided to forge ahead with a plan that may not have the highest degree of certainty, but could very well be a smashing success. Instead of spending time devising a construction plan that might or might not be approved for grant support, they are taking on the role of true pioneers.

"We’re willing to take some risks," Gailes told The Journal. "I’m working on getting a wind turbine manufacturer from Massachusetts on site. We want to put up a small turbine and an inexpensive anemometer to measure wind speeds. We know there is plenty of wind there. All we have to do is pick the best spot."

He added that grant requirements may negate their ability to tap into the community’s vast wealth of construction expertise and willingness to donate services.

"We have people who would do a top-notch job of cement work and other construction that would precede putting up a turbine. We know we would save, and anything we spend would stay in the community."

Local tax dollars are, technically, uninvolved. A $90,000 payment from the CRRA (the state’s trash authority; the money is part of the Enron settlement) has been sitting untouched. Some see a beautiful irony in using funds from Enron, a company that made a fortune in the energy market —and then lost it.

Estimates for potential projects vary widely, but the $90,000 falls into the top end of the range.

As if to confirm the necessity of an assertive approach to finding energy, T. Boone Pickens revealed this past week his "big plan" to promote wind and solar energy. The 80-year-old Texas oil man, CEO of BP Capital Management, has mounted a multi-million dollar ad campaign. In his first ad, smoke-filled images of the Iraqi War segue into wind turbines set against clear blue skies.

Pickens calls the $700 billion in imported oil each year the largest transfer of wealth in the history of humankind.

"I’ve been an oil man all my life, but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of," he says.

On CNBC’s Squawkbox, Pickens revealed a plan that includes the production of at least 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs from a windy corridor in the Midwest, from west Texas to the Canadian border. The Department of Energy, he said, has done studies to prove the potential of a resource that will never be depleted. He calls the U.S. the "Saudi Arabia of wind power."

It’s a matter of scale as North Canaan officials look into producing a potential $100,000 worth of electricity per year. That will not be enough to cover all of the town’s needs, but will make a huge dent.

The selectmen are also hoping to spark a groundswell of commercial and residential installations throughout the area, and get past the notion that there are not a significant number of viable sites in the Northeast.

The town also signed on recently with the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund’s SmartPower 20 percent by 2010 initiative. For slightly more than it costs to buy energy from Connecticut Light and Power, residential and business customers can buy half or all of their electricity from companies that generate power through wind, landfill gases and small hydro plants. Latest statistics at the CCEF Web site show only half of 1 percent of North Canaan customers have signed on for alternative energy, but the selectmen are working on plans to raise awareness and create an energy task force.

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