This Wind Turbine Should Be Turning

DN Staff

January 7, 2007

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103 in Dorchester, MA is doing a good thing, but if they cheated just a little, they could do so much better.

The IBEW training center is conveniently located next to Interstate 93, just south of Boston, and in plain view of about 180,000 vehicles per day (according to interstate-guide.com). The union capitalized upon its advantageous location by erecting a wind turbine to symbolize support for renewable energy. I commute past the turbine every day, and I’ve noticed that it is not spinning a significant portion of the time.

While the turbine certainly generates public awareness, I question whether it adequately generates electricity.

The turbine’s location next to the highway and the IBEW building reduces unobstructed access to wind. To determine whether the system is well-sited, I used the IBEW’s turbine data and the manufacturer’s specifications to calculate the “capacity factor”. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) defines this quantity as actual energy output divided by the theoretical output at rated power for a year. Depending on my assumptions, I obtain a capacity factor ranging from 7% to 24%. (As a renewable energy advocate, I would like to be wrong about this observation. So, I encourage you to check my calculations and write in if you feel I’ve erred.)

AWEA suggests that a capacity factor of 25% to 30% is “reasonable” for a wind turbine. 40% would be “very good”. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, the IBEW turbine does not stand up to the breeze. If the turbine is not perpetually spinning, what message does this symbol actually impart to the more than a quarter-million commuters passing it each day?

Although it chills every renewable energy fiber in my body, I have an unorthodox suggestion for the IBEW: make that wind turbine spin 24-7. You read me correctly. Calculations prove that the turbine is more of a publicity stunt than a bona fide renewable energy installation. As such, electrons should be pumped up to that generator to turn those blades whenever there is not enough wind to do so, even if the system runs at a net energy deficit.

In this instance, bolstering the public’s positive perception of wind energy outweighs the few extra kilowatt-hours required to keep the renewable energy torch burning.