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University hosts environmentally-friendly wind turbine commissioning ceremony

Friday, 15 May 2009

State and local dignitaries joined the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Thursday, May 14 in celebrating the official commissioning of the campus's 600 kW wind turbine - the very first midsize wind turbine to be installed on a University campus in the State of Maine.

The midday event included a short presentation on how the University's wind turbine will transform wind into electricity and how that electricity will be delivered to the campus buildings it will power, as well as a Native American drumming song at the turbine site, and a ribbon cutting featuring the release of environmentally-friendly balloons.

During the first half of the event, held inside the University's Campus Center, remarks were delivered by UMPI President Don Zillman; Sumul Shah, President of Lumus Construction, Inc.; Commissioner Vendean Vafiades of the Maine Public Utilities Commission; University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude; representatives speaking on behalf of Maine's Congressional Delegation; and Presque Isle City Manager Tom Stevens.

The celebration moved outside to the wind turbine site - located near the athletic fields at the southern end of campus - during the second half of the event. In addition to the release of environmentally-friendly, dove-shaped, paper balloons (similar balloons were released during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan), the University celebrated the ceremonial commissioning with the release of more than 100 small, paper mementos from the top of the 65-meter turbine tower as a remembrance of the historic day. Wind-themed refreshments and videos showcasing UMPI's wind turbine installation were available inside the Campus Center following the ceremony.

The Wind Turbine Commissioning Ceremony was held just two days before the University hosted its 100th Commencement Exercises and just two years after University officials announced their intentions to move forward on installing a wind turbine on campus.

"What a remarkable adventure we have been on in the past few years as we've worked to make this wind turbine a reality," President Zillman said. "We are so pleased to see this moment finally arrive and gratefully acknowledge that our wind turbine would not be standing here without the hard work and contributions of so many individuals. We intend to acknowledge those efforts in the years to come by sharing our experiences with those who would like to explore wind power options of their own."

The University's wind turbine is expected to produce about 1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and save the institution more than $100,000 annually in electricity charges. It is expected to save an estimated 572 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year, or the equivalent of removing 123 cars from the road.

The University first began exploring alternative energy options about five years ago when its Gentile Hall building project was underway. Geo-thermal energy generation was considered, but officials determined that the option was not feasible, so turned to wind generation and hired the Bangor firm Woodard & Curran to serve as a consultant on the project.

After talking with the U.S. Department of Energy about wind power, the University was directed to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Renewable Energy Research Laboratory. RERL installed wind monitoring equipment in a field next to the tennis courts on Nov. 21, 2004. The data received indicated that a wind turbine would be a fiscally feasible venture for the University.

The University announced its intentions to move forward on a wind turbine project two years ago, on May 3, 2007. In preparing for the arrival of heavy machinery and turbine parts, the University received support from the Maine Army National Guard, which made significant improvements to the road leading to the turbine site. After securing the proper permits and completing contract negotiations, the University signed an agreement with Lumus Construction, Inc. to build the turbine.

Construction work on the $2 million project began on Nov. 19, 2008. Foundation work was completed during the winter, and in late February 2009, the tower parts, which were manufactured in North Dakota, began arriving. On April 15, the blades, hub and nacelle - manufactured in Chennai, India - were delivered, and in just 4 days, the turbine was completely assembled. Crews completed interior equipment installation, electrical hook-up work with the help of Maine Public Service Company, and diagnostic tests, so that the turbine would be able to begin spinning in mid-May.

Local contractors who assisted in this project include: Soderberg Construction of Caribou, S. W. Cole Engineering of Caribou, County Electric Inc. of Caribou, Masse Earthworks of Caribou, Langille Construction of Presque Isle, Energy Service Partners of Presque Isle, and K-PEL Industrial Services Inc. of Fort Fairfield.

Funding for the project is coming from campus reserves which have been built up through more than 20 years of careful financial stewardship. The University received a $50,000 Voluntary Renewable Resources Fund grant from the Maine Public Utilities Commission to go toward the project. The University also received assistance from the Rebuild America grant program through Efficiency Maine as administered by the University of Maine System's System-wide Services. The grant program paid for the wind feasibility study and has helped with engineering fees.

The University set forth on this project for several reasons: a serious campus commitment to renewable energy and reduction of carbon fuel use and global warming; a desire to serve the community as a pioneer in projects that others might want to pursue themselves; a desire to increase the educational programs both for UMPI students and for students around the state; and a desire to reduce its $375,000 annual electric bill, which is only expected to go higher over the next two decades.

Officials promised to make the wind turbine project very public and show all sides of completing an alternative energy project, both the value and cost-effectiveness of harnessing natural resources for clean electricity as well as any problems encountered along the way.

A website about the campus wind project serves as a major resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the University's efforts on the alternative energy front. To view photos, videos and more details about the University's wind project, visit www.umpi.edu/wind.