Wind Generation on Nantucket

Sponsor: Nantucket Energy Study Committee
Sponsor Liaison: Whitey Willauer, Nantucket Energy Study Committee
Student Team: Diana M. Berlo, Jennifer L. Hunt, Amanda L. Martori, Justin Skelly
Abstract: This report, prepared for the Nantucket Energy Study Committee, addresses important background information which can be used to study the feasibility of implementing land-based wind turbines on Nantucket. Through interviews with key informants and archival research, the project team addressed pertinent laws, regulations, and permits; ownership and financial arrangements; and concerns regarding implementing wind turbines on Nantucket. The project provides a timeline to address laws, regulations and permits; evaluates the financials of different turbine sizing options; recommends how to mitigate concerns; and ultimately proposes how Nantucket should proceed with their land-based wind project.
Link: Wind_Generation_on_Nantucket_IQP_Final_Report

Executive Summary

In 2008, the average residential cost of electricity in the United States was 10.97¢/kWh, and the average cost of electricity in Massachusetts was 16.27¢/kWh (Energy Information Administration, 2008). On the Island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, electricity rates are even higher because electricity must be transported from the mainland through two submarine cables. All Nantucket rate payers, commercial and residential, are responsible for paying a cable surcharge fee, resulting in Nantucket‘s substantially high electricity costs: 18.978¢/kWh in the summer and 17.924¢/kWh in the winter for residents (, September 6, 2008). Consequently, the Nantucket Energy Study Committee was formed in order to look at options to reduce electricity costs on the island and to ultimately make Nantucket an electricity exporter. The Committee is pursuing is the possibility of generating electricity from wind power on Nantucket. As an island, Nantucket has tremendous wind resources averaging 15-19MPH (McClelland & Knipe, 2008), making wind power a viable option for electricity generation.

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative completed a preliminary feasibility study of Nantucket‘s wind resource at thirteen proposed sites from 2005-2006, and from this study the Energy Committee narrowed their focus to two sites. The goal of the Wind Generation on Nantucket Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) was to assist the project sponsor, the Nantucket Energy Study Committee, in its efforts to map out a strategy for the development of wind power on Nantucket. The team helped to obtain valuable information required for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to accept a site on Nantucket for a formal feasibility study. Based on priorities of the Energy Study Committee and the team‘s archival research of key aspects related to wind power implementation, the IQP team formulated three objectives for their project. The objectives of the IQP were to (1) identify and prioritize pertinent laws, regulations, and permits, and organize them into chronological order to approach these requirements; (2) conduct a financial analysis and investigate ownership arrangements; and (3) investigate concerns regarding wind power implementation on Nantucket, including prioritizing these concerns and suggesting mitigation strategies. After accomplishing the stated objectives, the team provided the Nantucket Energy Study Committee with results of their studies, and recommendations for progression with the implementation of turbines on the island. The project team provided the Energy Study Committee with valuable information which the Committee used to determine how to proceed with their project plans, and allowed the Energy Committee to move forward with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) feasibility study, a necessary step toward implementing wind power on Nantucket.

The team scheduled weekly meetings with the project sponsor, Nantucket Energy Study Committee, and the project advisor, Professor Elmes. Following the initial meeting with the Energy Study Committee, the team scheduled interviews with key informants. The team conducted a total of twenty interviews and transcribed the interviews as they were conducted. The team employed a snowball sampling technique and conducted more interviews based on suggestions by previous interviewees, and ultimately achieved triangulation as the later interviewees suggested that the team speak with individuals that they had already interviewed. The team began analyzing the data in the fourth week, compiling relevant results, analyzing those results, and seeking feedback from the sponsoring organization. After prioritizing the results for each objective, the team drew conclusions and formulated recommendations for the Energy Committee.

The background literature was used to define the range and scope of the issues related to implementation of turbines on the island. Such issues included information regarding the current (fall 2008) energy and electricity situation in the United States; current renewable energy projects throughout the country and world; ownership and financial arrangements currently in use; pertinent laws and regulations; and public concerns. The literature also helped the team draft intelligent interview questions to ask each individual interviewee. For example, a study at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy investigated the avian impact from their wind turbine and suggested that proper siting of the turbine reduces the avian impact and that in good weather conditions birds can detect turbines and deter their flight paths to avoid collision. This allowed the team to draft questions for bird experts about the effect of fog and weather conditions on birds, as well as information such as bird populations and migrations routes specific to Nantucket that would be necessary to determine proper siting of wind turbines. The team collected data from case studies in Scituate, MA, a town without a municipal light department which is currently in the process of implementing turbines, as well as Princeton, MA and Hull, MA, which each have a municipally owned electricity utility and generation plant. These studies allowed the team to gather financial statistics, issues and issue management processes, and to gauge the extent of the project.

The team acquired factual data from reports and documents obtained from the different interviewees, such as electricity consumption and component costs from National Grid Employees, turbine costs from municipalities with wind turbines, and plant and bird nest locations from the Department of Public Works and Nantucket Conservation Foundation, as well as from comments provided during the interview itself. Factual information was used to inform the Energy Committee of current laws, regulations, and permits with which they must comply, as well as what options other towns in similar situations chose, and costs that other towns incurred over the course of their turbine implementation process. The team used the data to draw conclusions and support recommendations. The team analyzed the data by grouping interviewee comments on similar topics and the team noted the range of responses, as well as conflicts and consensus of answers to compare the comments and make recommendations to the committee. For Objective 1, the team collected and grouped laws, regulations, and permits according to function group, such as zoning, aviation, and environmental. The team then prioritized the permits by the phase of the project in which the permit must be obtained, and then suggested a chronological order, based on interviewee feedback of challenging and time-consuming permits to obtain. The team used a simple payback period breakdown as well as a projection for percent returns based on initial investment in order to analyze the financial aspects of various potential project situations that may be implemented on Nantucket and to create simple visuals showing the economics for each situation. To analyze concerns related to Objective 3, the team performed a pair-wise comparison, in which each concern was compared to each other concern, in order to create a ranking of the concerns from most difficult to mitigate to easiest to mitigate.

In order to implement wind turbines on the island, the Nantucket Energy Study Committee must obey federal, state, and local laws and regulations and must file for many permits. For example, the Committee must file a Notice of Proposed Construction to the Federal Aviation Administration, and apply for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Incidental Take Permit. The team also analyzed the current Code of the Town of Nantucket to discern which local regulations the Energy Committee should advocate for change, such as the noise and setback distance bylaws. The team used the information acquired from interviews and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, in order to prioritize the local, state and federal regulations and provide a chronological order for the Energy Committee.

Social issues including aesthetics and noise; the protection of avian, plant, and animal life on Nantucket; and the financial aspects of a wind turbine project are major concerns regarding a wind power project on Nantucket. Turbine projects require public outreach programs to educate the community and gain support. People have concerns regarding noise, visual impacts, and the size of turbines, though many of these concerns can be mitigated with education. Nantucket residents and bird experts alike are concerned that wind turbines will injure or kill Nantucket‘s precious bird population, which contains many federal and state listed endangered and threatened species including Northern Harriers and Piping Plovers, as well as ten percent of the world‘s population of Long-tailed Ducks. Wind turbine projects have many associated costs, including siting, purchasing, transportation, construction, permitting, and maintenance. Due to the large upfront costs, payback is very important. The team performed a simple payback period analysis under several different conditions at both proposed sites, calculated the cumulative payback over the first twenty years, and calculated the percent return for a 250kW, 660kW, and 1.5MW turbine. Transportation to specific sites on Nantucket can be exceptionally costly if turbines larger than 660kW are selected, as any larger turbine requires a helicopter to transport the blades to the sites on the island.

Weighing all concerns, the team recommends that the Energy Study Committee implement one 660kW wind turbine at the Madaket Landfill and one to three 250kW wind turbines at the Surfside Waste Water Treatment Facility. Smaller wind turbines are more likely to receive support from the community, as the smaller turbine will be less visible, quieter, and less costly. From a financial standpoint (analyzing single 250kW, 660kW, and 1.5MW turbines), a 660kW turbine at the Landfill and 250kW turbines at the Waste Water Treatment Facility are most cost-effective, providing the shortest payback period and highest percent return on the initial investment.

Several of the team‘s recommendations are included in Table 1 on the following page. All recommendations are discussed in the Conclusions and Recommendations section of this report.

Objective 1: Laws, Regulations, and Permits

  • Review the citizen article regarding WECS, included in Appendix E, and support the changes regarding noise levels and tower access and advocate for a change in the setback distance from a property line.
  • Apply for Federal Aviation Administration form 7640-1 (Notification of Proposed Construction) and Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission Airspace Review in conjunction.
  • FAA lighting: apply for red lights, day and night, for both of the sites.
  • Submit an Environmental Notification Form to the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs for review.

Objective 2: Financial Analysis and Ownership Arrangements

  • Put the issue of starting a municipal light department on hold.
  • Consider joint-venture opportunities for ownership and/or funding.

Objective 3: Concerns Regarding Wind Power for Nantucket

  • Work with the MTC Community Wind Collaborative to organize a Wind 101 workshop. Host information and question sessions throughout the course of the wind turbine project.
  • Hire and individual or organization to conduct a study of the impacts the wind turbines at each the Madaket Landfill and Waste Water Treatment Facility will have on Nantucket’s avian life.
  • Form a bird sub-committee to inform the Energy Committee of particular nights when the turbines must be shot off to prevent massive bird kills.
  • Conduct studies of bird, turtle, and property value impact in the vicinity of the Bartlett’s Farm wind turbine.
  • Conduct a study of the turbine’s interference with radar and to determine if the turbines will impact Air Defense and Homeland Security Radars.

Final Recommendations

  • Pursue the installation of 250kW wind turbines at the Surfside Waste Water Treatment Facility.
  • Pursue the installation of one 660kW wind turbine at the Madaket Landfill.