For renewable energy, city tilts at windmills

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. might not yet be Don Quixote — but he’s getting closer.

If the Board of Aldermen supports a pilot project for wind energy recently approved by the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, energy-harnessing windmills might soon be making an appearance in New Haven.

Windmills like these could make an appearance in the New Haven area if the Board of Alderman decides to support a pilot wind-energy project.
Windmills like these could make an appearance in the New Haven area if the Board of Alderman decides to support a pilot wind-energy project.

The CCEF-funded proposal — under which two or more types of wind turbines would be installed at as-yet undetermined locations throughout the city as early as next fall — is meant to reduce New Haven’s reliance on carbon-based energy.

“Wind energy could be implemented here at little to no cost to the city,” Emily Byrne, a City Hall analyst, said. “The city is committed to harvesting new forms of alternative energy, especially considering that energy costs have doubled in recent years.”

Construction for the project — which is still in the early research stages and is pending approval by the board and DeStefano’s office — will not begin until at least fall 2008 if it is approved by the board, Byrne said.

City officials said they have narrowed potential locations for the construction down to three possibilities, but they said they cannot release the names of the sites until the board approves the project. All three locations are near bodies of water, the officials said.

Over time, the turbines would contribute the equivalent of three to five households’ worth of energy consumption to the city, but the proposal’s primary goal is not to produce energy, Emily Smith, managing director for external relations at the CCEF.

Rather, she said, the project aims to test the viability and affordability of a new alternative energy source in a suitable environment. Wind is the fastest growing alternative energy source in the country.

After construction, city officials will monitor the different types of turbines to assess which model harnesses energy most effectively, she said.

“We have programs for fuel cell energy, biomass and solar energy, but we don’t yet have a great program for testing and demonstrating the effectiveness of wind power,” Smith said. “This will be the first one in Connecticut.”

The project also aims to give homeowners an incentive to use wind as a renewable source of energy, Byrne said. The CCEF funds a competition in New Haven designed to encourage homeowners to use solar panels by awarding free kilowatts of solar energy to communities with a certain number of homes running on solar power.

The CCEF may look into subsidizing wind energy for homeowners under a similar system if the project is a success, Byrne said.

City officials and local experts interviewed said they support the initiative, but they disagreed about whether it would be successful given weather patterns in New Haven.

“The general wisdom is that Connecticut is not blessed with particularly good wind resources, but this may change — the same was once thought about Indiana and Missouri, and both are now getting wind farms,” said Thomas Gray, a representative from the American Wind Energy Association.

Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said discussion about the proposal during a Community Development Committee meeting earlier this year reached a standstill over potential construction sites for the turbines. He said all the construction sites that came up as possibilities during the meeting, one of which was East Rock, were not feasible for a variety of reasons. But Mattison said he thinks the city should pursue the project “by all means” if officials can decide on a plausible site.

New Haven was chosen a test location for the project because of its history as a leader on green initiatives in Connecticut, Smith said. The city was among the first in the state to commit to reducing carbon emissions by 20 percent by the year 2010 and the first in New England to switch to biodiesel instead of the less environmentally friendly regular gasoline.

New Haven has consistently been “ahead of the curve” on environmental issues compared to other cities of a similar or larger size, DeStefano spokesperson Jessica Mayorga said.

Among the city’s environmental goals, she said, are increasing community involvement in recycling programs and the growth of a program that promotes eco-friendly “Pace” cars, which will be launched at the end of the month.

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