Small Wind Case Study: Wind Powers U.S. Border Station
Out of adversity comes opportunity. Following 9/11, the United States 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 General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for many of the federal government’s buildings, including energy procurement. While the United States operates 168 border stations, GSA’s New England Region has 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 loads are increasing.
Pilot project: Two units goal to supply half of needed electricity
Staff at the GSA’s 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 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-kilowatt units. The turbines were installed in September 2011 but were not interconnected and online with Hydro-Quebec (H-Q) until April 2011. With a measured wind speed of 6.1 mps (13.7 mph) at 37-m (69-ft.) hub height, the two units are expected to produce 400 kWh per year. The project goal was for the turbines to supply 50 percent of the Jackman LPOE’s annual electricity.
Small wind project permitting: obstacles & easy openings
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, 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.)
Project shows that wind energy can help GSA reach energy goals
Since resolving these issues, the Energy, Utilities & Environment Branch has been pleased with the turbines’ performance and Northern’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.