By KYLE HENCE/ecoRI News contributor
NEWPORT, R.I. — For three hours on a recent Thursday at the Community College of Rhode Island’s local campus, an army of Navy representatives stood alongside posters that highlighted the results of two years of intensive study (pdf) to determine the feasibility of producing electricity from wind to supply most of Naval Station Newport’s electrical needs.
Project managers, experts and Navy specialists on wind-turbine acoustics, shadow flicker, avian impact, and historic and cultural effects were on hand for a public forum to answer questions and address concerns regarding the wind farm proposed for installation on local Navy land.
Naval Station Newport includes 50 different commands and schools, and is one of the largest electrical users in Rhode Island. It pays the second-highest electrical rate in the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic Region, behind Naval Submarine Base Groton, and averages about $12 million in electric utility billing annually.
The goal for the major utility-scale wind energy project — ground could be broken within a year, followed by an 18- to 24-month construction schedule — is to produce a total of 9 megawatts from large wind turbines erected on 12 possible sites, all on Navy land. Nine megawatts is the base load at the Naval Station, while peak load during a hot summer afternoon is 18-20 megawatts.
The intention, according to the Navy, is “to lead the Department of Defense (DOD) and the nation in bringing improved energy security, energy independence and a new energy economy.”
According to base commander, Capt. Doug Mikatarian, all of these were factors that led to directives from President Obama and the secretary of the Navy, and set the stage for the Navy’s wind-turbine study for Naval Station Newport.
“Reducing dependency on foreign oil, energy security, environmental emissions and greenhouse gases, and the intention to move to renewables are all factors,” Mikatarian said.
“The DOD is the largest consumer of fossil fuels in the nation,” said Lisa Rama, public affairs officer for Naval Station Newport. “We’ve been working to reduce our energy usage.”
Ongoing efforts at Naval Station Newport have reduced energy consumption by 43 percent since 2003. How did the base do it?
There are five solar hot water installations at the base, and other energy-saving projects include decentralized steam production, upgraded lighting and pumps, more-efficient technologies and better electric metering.
The Navy also is committed to producing 50 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. This is an aggressive goal that goes well beyond the federal mandate of 15 percent by 2025, established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
“All energy produced (by the wind turbines) will be used solely by Naval Station Newport,” Mikatarian said. He noted that the 9 megawatts of energy produced on the base would not be sold into the grid.
The current design of the wind turbine installation will not allow for energy produced on the base to be routed elsewhere. In addition, according to Mikatarian, there are legal, regulatory and technical issues that would prevent the Navy from selling energy back into the grid.
While prospects for direct benefit to municipal emergency services or reduced energy costs are not being offered or promised, Mikatarian insisted that the community will benefit through the reduction in the country’s overall dependence on non-renewable energy sources.
“It’s about lower demand … across the whole grid,” Mikatarian said. “This is part of our national energy security policy. We depend upon oil and it’s a resource that won’t last forever.”
The project is not without its detractors. Robert Berner and Paul Lally are both townhouse residents at Overlook Point, one of three major residential developments near to at least one of the 12 proposed turbine sites. Both men object to placing wind turbines near their homes. Berner said he had zero confidence in the Navy siting the turbines where they won’t impact his neighborhood.
“We don’t want you to do this because this is going to cut our property values in half,” said Berner said. He noted that he isn’t opposed to wind energy he’s just concerned over placing them near to homes.
“I’m for wind. There are turbines across the country, but there are no people around them,” Berner said.
Following acoustic studies, the Navy dropped one proposed site, just south of the Overlook Point development, one of three originally proposed sites. Two turbines within close proximity of each other would exceed sound limits, according to the Navy.
According to data collected from meteorological stations that monitored wind-energy potential at several sites on Navy land, there is a 24 percent advantage for the turbines to be sited to the south, within the core of the base itself.
Other potentially impacted residential neighborhoods include the developments along Redwood Road in Portsmouth, Green Lane in Middletown and the Point Section of Newport.
Edward Sanderson, executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, said the process is designed to examine the issues and concerns of all parties. He got involved when it became apparent that there was a lack of communication from the Navy to concerned historic preservation groups. As a result, Sanderson’s office stepped in, sending out notices seeking public comment. While recognizing there would be objections and impact regardless of the placement and size of the turbines, Sanderson is confident a solution will be found that minimizes impact.
“The process is designed to reach an agreement,” he said. “I’m confident that an agreement will be reached.”