Warwick company wants to hide turbines in plain sight
By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Rob Baxter’s wind turbine is short and squat and designed to not look at all like a windmill. It was built to blend in with suburban homes or rooftop ventilation systems.
Baxter agrees that land-based wind power is the most cost-effective source of renewable energy. He also recognizes that the wind sector has been stalled by objections to aesthetics, noise and shadow flicker, especially in densely built regions such as southern New England.
Public pushback prompted several Rhode Island communities to enact moratoriums on wind turbines. As a result, a once-growing pillar of the renewable-energy industry has come to a standstill, with no new large-scale turbines erected in Rhode Island since 2012. Massachusetts last built a turbine in January 2015.
Baxter’s Hidden In Plain Sight turbine design was a long process in the making. He launched his Warwick-based company, CBC LLC, in 2010, but he was sidelined after a lengthy illness.
He now has one working model: a modest 5-kilowatt system atop a building on Block Island. Baxter, an electrical engineer, built his first turbine at the request of a customer who wanted an inconspicuous source of renewable energy. The design and prototype was created with students and faculty through a partnership with Roger Williams University’s school of engineering.
This wind system generates enough power for a single home and employs a vertical-axis design that channels wind into an interior turbine built inside a box-like casing. Concealing the blades has many benefits over traditional wind turbines. It reduces noise, prevents collisions with birds and bats, and eliminates shadow flicker and ice throw. Thus, according to Baxter, the vertical model has an easier time getting approvals for siting and building permits than tall, open-blade turbines.
Baxter foresees clusters of much larger 100-kilowatt turbines built on office buildings, parking garages and shopping centers. Highways, such as Interstate 95, that run near the coast have the ideal wind speed and building density to install dozens of turbines within a neighborhood, according to Baxter.
“Our vision is metropolitan wind farms,” he said.
The system’s decentralized power is generated close to where it’s needed and therefor costs less to deliver to the electric grid than rural or water-based turbines.
Baxter plans to market the turbines up and down the East Coast. Ideal spots in Rhode Island are windy industrial and commercial areas such as the Thurbers Avenue curve, the Jewelry District in Providence and high-wind portions of Interstate 295.
His concept got a boost recently when he was awarded $10,000 for placing first in Get Started RI Pitch Competition sponsored by Cox Business and Inc. Magazine.
The money will help pay for a 5-kilowatt production unit that can be shopped to investors. A 20-kilowatt system will follow. Eventually, the 100-kilowtt wind system cost between $300,000 and $400,000, according to Baxter.
Baxter expects to have the new prototype up and running some time in 2016. Once he’s ready for production, Baxter said he will be using locally made parts for assembly.
“We’re excited because everything but electronics we can source here in Rhode Island,” he said.