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A school makes its mark on the map -- Rhode Island

Rhode Island's first utility scale wind turbine is up and running, supplying roughly half the electricity at Portsmouth Abbey School, a coeducational 500-acre private campus for grades nine to 12 on the state's namesake island, some 60 miles from Boston. The school's new Vestas 660 kW turbine is part of a $1.2 million project that makes use of a $450,000 renewable energy grant from the state.

"The state really wanted someone like us to put up a turbine," says Brother Joseph Byron, one of the school's 15 Benedictine monks. "They were basically looking for a pioneer and ended up being very generous with us."

Aesthetic gamble

The project gained approval in April 2005, when the town of Portsmouth's zoning board of review issued a special use permit and a height variance for the turbine, which to blade tip reaches a height of 240 feet. "We were kind of nervous about the whole thing because we have a really beautiful campus and to put up something like this was a bit of an aesthetic gamble," says Byron. "The most amazing thing to me is that the project was unanimously passed by the town board, but everything has turned out great. Tons and tons of people have come to check it out and I haven't heard one negative comment."

The 80-year-old boarding school, with a student body of 350 and an idyllic setting on the shores of Narragansett Bay, consumes about two million kWh per year. "We chose the Vestas V-47 because of its reputation as a workhorse and because there's a service centre about four hours away," says Byron. "We didn't want to go with a 1 MW machine because it would have been too much and, as it is, on a windy day we're sending some of the electricity back out to the grid."

Byron says that there were no significant problems during what ended up being nearly a two-year process. "The only major concern was when the turbine came from North Dakota," he says. "We didn't want them to bring it all this way and not be able to make the tight turn into our driveway."

The tower, which made the turn and got planted near the school's hockey arena, will also serve as an educational tool by providing a live online feed of meteorology, physics and engineering data. The project also provides one unexpected bonus. "It makes us very visible," says Byron, "We don't have to give directions for people to find the school anymore."

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