Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Possible Dream

Where the Quinnipiac flows into New Haven Harbor, in plain sight from the Q-Bridge on I-95, Connecticut’s first free-standing wind turbine is poised to catch every passing breeze.

Not content to purchase “100% renewable energy” to run their family-owned business, Phoenix Press,  brothers Brian and Kevin Driscoll had a vision of generating their own wind power. That dream became reality when the 150-foot turbine they erected with the assistance of a grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund went online in March. The turbine should generate 165,000 kilowatt-hours of power per year, one-third of Phoenix Press’s annual operating requirements.

The blades turn when the wind reaches 8-9 mph, and they continue to turn until the wind reaches a velocity of 55 mph, when the turbine automatically shuts down. The turbine is elegant in design and quiet in operation, less than 55 decibels at the base of the tower. To give you an idea of just how quiet this is, casual conversation usually takes place around 60 decibels.

The turbine is a Northwind 100, originally developed with a NASA grant, and manufactured by Northern Power Systems. The Northwind 100 has a gearless design based on permanent magnet direct drive technology and is tailored for high energy capture and low operating costs. Its generator is cooled directly by the wind, with no auxiliary fans or air transfer through the generator needed.

Northern Power Systems employs over 100 people in Barre, Vermont, location of 19th- and 21st-century businesses alike. Barre, once dubbed the “granite capital of the world,” is still home to the Barre Granite Association, established in 1889, quarriers and manufacturers of granite products (including many of CT’s headstones). The photo at left is an image of the JK Pirie Estate Quarry from the early 1900s.

The turbine was installed by Wilton-based Alteris Renewables. Although the project was in the planning stages for several years, it was just six weeks (in the depths of the New England winter) from groundbreaking to going online. For visual details, check out this slideshow of the turbine under construction.

As one with a frequent and unintentional windblown appearance, I was surprised to learn that Connecticut ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in wind generating potential. Long Island provides a barrier to the open ocean, so the Sound does not have the same potential as the open ocean off the RI and MA coasts. And the Lithchfield Hills are no match for the winds prevalent from North Dakota south to Texas in the mid-section of the US. But Phoenix proves that at 150 feet, ample winds are indeed blowing.  On a particularly windy 3-day period in May, the turbine generated 2,500 kW of power, enough to supply the needs of a typical American home for 3 months. Since the press was not operating on two of the days (Saturday and Sunday), the power went to the grid, and Phoenix got the credit.  The Driscolls expect the project will pay for itself in approximately, 5-7 years. Or, as Kevin Driscoll, Jr. adds, “depending on the wind of course.”

Phoenix Press has been on the road to greenness for some years.  Not only is it the first business in Connecticut to have a major free-standing wind turbine on site, it is the first commercial printing plant in the nation to have significant on-site wind power being converted into power to print. Phoenix Press is a member of the Green Energy Council, is FSC certified, recycles 100% of its excess paper, and uses printing presses which require no toxic chemicals and use no-VOC inks. As printers go, I don’t think you can get any greener.
It’s tough going for printers these days. I know the jobs I have been handing off are few and far between. Here’s hoping that by choosing the green road, Phoenix Press will attract new customers and that its presses will stay up and running for many years to come. Keep Phoenix in mind the next time you need to spread your message the traditional way, with a printed piece that someone can hold in their hands and read anywhere, whether or not the location is a Wi-Fi hotspot.

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