ROCKPORT, Maine — A group of 12 high school students left Wednesday night’s Five Town CSD board meeting happy after they and their advisers got permission from the board to raise funds to purchase and install a 121-foot-tall wind turbine for the Camden Hills Regional High School campus.
So far the group, known as Windplanners, have raised more than $200,000 for the $510,000 project, which will be installed and generate electricity for the school at no cost to taxpayers.
The school board voted unanimously to approve the project.
Windplanners, a group of approximately 25 students, expects the $510,000 project can break even with energy savings in the course of 20 years, based on its research and research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which assisted the teenagers.
The turbine is expected to generate about 10 percent of the total energy the school uses.
Figures on the school’s energy use were not immediately available.
Some attending the meeting expressed opposition to the project.
Jim Mays of Rockport said the Windplanners’ conclusions were misleading and optimistic. Wind speeds near the school are not strong enough for the machine to produce energy, Mays said. He also questioned the validity of the reports Windplanners received from UMass.
“When it works, fine, it’s a treat — but I don’t think it will work,” Mays said.
He proposed that Windplanners instead look into a smaller turbine that would better suit their educational purposes.
“It wouldn’t be as sexy. It wouldn’t be as pretty, but it’s $50,000, and it would be up by July. The educational component is almost the same,” he said at the meeting.
Mays said after the meeting that the project was irresponsible and was taking money from other nonprofits. He proposed that the group either get a smaller turbine or move the tower to a windier area off school grounds.
Windplanners told the school board that the donations they received came with stipulations that the windmill be a Northwind 100 and that the turbine be on school property.
Keith Rose, director of operations and maintenance at the high school, said that if the project’s goal were to make a profit, Mays would be right.
“From the beginning, we knew it wasn’t a super wind resource. It’s good enough,” said Rose, who has been involved with the project from day one. “It’s good enough to spend the money, and over the life of the machine we will see around a half a million dollars in savings. That’s nothing to sneeze at.”
Suzanne Sayer, an engineer from Kittery specializing in energy conversion, also spoke against the project. She cited the failure of similar turbines in Saco and Kittery, pointing out that they failed because they did not have enough wind. Sayer said this would be a worse problem at the school because in Kittery and Saco they have trees that have bent to the wind, and yet the turbines didn’t work, while the school has no bending trees, indicating even less wind.
Those projects cost the towns thousands of dollars, she said.
Anna Grigo, a 17-year-old junior at Camden Hills, said she was grateful to hear the opposing views. But she was even more grateful for the unanimous school board vote.
“[It] shows how much this project means to the community, and we have so much support,” Grigo said. “I’m glad this little bump in the road is over with.”
Windplanners has thousands more dollars to raise, but Rose said he expects the kids to “lock it up” within the next six months.
“We have more than $350,000 that has been raised already,” said faculty adviser Margo Murphy, adding that “$200,000 is a matching grant. We’re looking for $150,000 to $200,000 between now and when we break ground.”
Once the fundraising is complete, Windplanners will have to apply for a building permit with Rockport. Assuming the plan meets with the town’s land use ordinance, the students will be asked to meet with the town planner and community members before a building permit is issued.
According to Tom Ford, Rockport’s director of planning and community development, this would be the first wind project to go through the town’s process.