Wind power data center project planned in urban area

Will get part of its power from tall turbines in repurposed smokestack factory

A developer who plans to build a data center in Fall River, Mass., about 50 miles south of Boston, will install two large wind turbines -- as tall as two high-rise buildings -- to help generate its electricity.

Roland Patenaude, a local developer, won local zoning-board approval Thursday to install two wind turbines that can each be as high as 300 feet on an industrial-zoned 4.5-acre parcel. The parcel includes an existing but unused smokestack factory that's only a short walk from Fall River's government center.

If the effort to build the 120,000-square-foot data center goes ahead as planned, its wind turbines will likely be one of the largest wind-utilizing installations in a U.S. urban area, if not the largest. Fall River's population is about 91,000.

Tom Gray, a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group in Washington, said large turbines in urban areas were relatively rare. Gray said he knew of no data center, in particular, that had one built next to it and that the use of large turbines in urban areas is "pretty visionary." Gray said that wind turbines make a kind of "swishing aerodynamic sound, and if they are too close to residences, there can be issues with that," he said, but for people "who live 1,000 feet away, they are no louder then a kitchen refrigerator."

Following the local zoning-board action, Patenaude said he is is proud of the fact that the wind turbines will be visible for miles around.

"Everybody is going to know Fall River is making a statement and is doing something about the energy crisis," said Patenaude.

The company formed to build the data center, Granite Block Global Data Center Inc., will make raised-floor data center space available to commercial customers.

Patenaude estimated that the data center, once it is built out, will have an electric bill in excess of $1 million a month. He predicted that the two wind turbines could reduce that amount by 20% or more and said he is considering General Electric Co.'s 2.5 MW turbines. He hopes to have the data center in operation within two years.

Patenaude said if he had more land, he would install as many as eight turbines.

Other urban turbine projects include the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, which two years ago installed a 150-foot-high wind turbine with a peak output of 225 kW. It's next to the Browns football stadium. Similarly, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local in Boston has a wind turbine installed.

The urban turbine built in Hull, Mass., a costal town on a peninsula in Boston Harbor, is also quite well-known. Hull (population 11,344) operates a municipal electric utility, and its wind turbines supplement its power.

Hull installed a 660 kW turbine, Hull Wind 1, in 2001, which at the time was the largest wind turbine in New England. The town followed it in 2006 with Hull Wind II a 1.8 MW turbine, which generates about 9% of the town's energy needs. The Hull Wind 2 has a tower height of 190 feet and a blade length of 130 feet.

The total cost of Hull Wind II was estimated at $3 million, including $1.8 million for the turbine and $850,000 for the foundation, according to a stoudy by the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (download PDF). The wind turbine's payback period "should be less than nine years and probably shorter," according to the study.

Once incentive for using wind, said Patenaude, is that state grant programs will pay 40% of the cost of the wind turbines. Once completed, his facility will employ 50 to 60 people, ranging from custodial staffers to engineers.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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