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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Wind turbine proposed for URI Kingston campus

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Project could supply University with 5 percent of its electricity needs

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 17, 2005 -- Students in the University of Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Club have been working for more than two years to advance a proposal to have a wind turbine constructed on the Kingston campus, and their efforts are on the verge of becoming a reality.

By the summer of 2006, a 1.5 megawatt turbine, enough to provide 5 percent of the electricity needs of the campus, could be in operation. It would be the first commercial-size wind turbine in Rhode Island.

“It’s been a long process, but we’re getting close to making it happen,” said Auriane Koster, a sophomore math and environmental science major from South Kingstown. “We presented the project several times to the master plan review team, and we met with President Carothers, who was very encouraging. We studied seven different possible sites, and now we’re working on funding.”

The project proposal was initiated by Courtney Blodgett, a former student who studied climate change issues while an intern at the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003. That internship motivated her to start the Renewable Energy Club and recruit Koster and fellow student Taylor Spalt of Providence to launch the turbine project. Blodgett graduated from URI in 2004.

“The students have done a thorough job of analyzing the issues that come with a project like this,” said J. Vernon Wyman, URI assistant vice president for business services. “They showed us visualizations of what the campus would look like with the turbine in place, answered questions and concerns, and did an extremely professional job presenting the project to us.”

The students studied seven potential sites for the proposed wind turbine -- which would stand about 200 feet tall with three, 100-foot blades -- looking for a site that would not be clearly visible from Route 138 or surrounding neighborhoods. Their preferred location is on the turf fields near the intersection of Plains and Flagg roads on the northwest part of the URI campus.

A public meeting to discuss the project and address questions and concerns from local officials and area residents will be scheduled later this spring.

The turbine would cost approximately $2.2 million. Partial funding would be sought from the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund, which is administered by the State Energy Office and provides grants to homeowners, businesses and institutions to help them install clean energy systems.

One of the factors in the decision to build the turbine is whether the project is economically feasible. The initial business plan developed by the Renewable Energy Club indicates the project will pay for itself. URI could develop additional revenue from the project through a unique arrangement with energy contractor Noresco Inc. of Westborough, Mass., which has been hired by the University through a competitive process to find ways to reduce campus energy use.

“We are engaging Noresco as a ‘performance contractor’ to develop and construct various projects and measures around campus designed to save energy and reduce the University’s utility bill,” said Wyman. “The wind turbine is one measure we are considering having them evaluate for possible inclusion in the overall performance contract. Cost avoidance realized in the University’s utility budget resulting from the wind-generated electricity could be used to pay back the investment in the project.”

The Renewable Energy Club conducted an exhaustive review of the potential for a wind turbine at URI. They visited the turbine in Hull, Mass. that provides electricity to the residents of that community, and they acquired an anemometer to collect wind speed data on campus. They’ve also consulted with representatives of the R.I. Renewable Energy Fund, People’s Power and Light (a non-profit group advocating for renewable energy and energy efficiency), and Roger Williams University, which, along with Portsmouth Abbey School, is also planning construction of a turbine.

“It should only take about three or four weeks to install, but the timing might be dependent on how difficult it is to get the turbines,” said Nancy Selman, a consultant to the R.I. Renewable Energy Fund who has advised the students on the project. “New tax credits for turbines are creating great demand right now, so the availability of acquiring the turbines might delay the process.”