Are Crisfield’s turbine savings blowing in the wind?

CRISFIELD — In September 2016 — nearly 2½ years after its groundbreaking — Crisfield’s skyline became dominated by a pole topped by three propeller- like blades towering 315 ft. from the ground to the tip of a blade at high noon.

By mid-February 2017 this wind turbine was operating. A dedication ceremony planned for July 2018 was postponed, and ultimately never rescheduled.

Designed to generate 750 kW of electricity and offset the power needs of the wastewater treatment plant next door, it was estimated it would save the city $120,000 per year.

The state provided the $4.2 million for the project, and as a commitment to one of the funding agencies two public hearings were required by the Mayor and City Council, with the second one initially missed but held May 13, 2020.

At that hearing Clerk-Treasurer Joyce Morgan reported electricity expense to the city using 2016 as a baseline. That year power at the sewer plant cost $159,710.

Two years later with a full year of wind turbine activity there was a 65 percent reduction with electricity just under $55,000 for a savings of nearly $105,000.

In 2019 the savings compared to 2016 was 54 percent or $87,700. The first two months of 2020 are less by an average of 47 percent compared to 2016 for an estimated savings so far of $14,300. Extrapolated out that is $86,000 less than 2016.

“We have some fluctuations that we are aware of,” Mrs. Morgan said. “It depends on how many pumps we have running, and how much wind is blowing.”

Built by Queen Anne’s County contractor Bearing Construction, this turbine from Aeronautica Windpower of Plymouth, Mass., was approved by the City Council as substantially complete in March 2017. The five-year warranty and maintenance guarantee are currently in place through early 2022.

The savings “are a little deceiving because once the warranty runs out we’re going to have to have a maintenance contract and decommission this thing, which can be a quite healthy expense,” Mayor Barry Dize said. “It’s save now, pay later.”

Jason Loar, the city’s consulting engineer from Davis, Bowen & Friedel Inc., said next year the city should issue a request for proposals for a new maintenance contract. He was reluctant to throw out a number on what it might cost at that time, but suggested it could be $150,000 for five years.

“It also depends on how it’s written,” Mr. Loar said. “If it’s strictly a maintenance agreement only, or an extended warranty on top of that for parts, otherwise, the city would be paying out of pocket for those.”

“Basically what you have there is a generator, with maintenance similar to what they would be at the wastewater plant or any facility but at a much larger scale,” Mr. Loar said. One item is lubricating fluids, changed at least twice a year. “It’s very specialized,” he said. “Not a lot of people are trained in it.”

Because of how it was funded the state requires the wind turbine to be operational until 2034 before loan commitments the city accepted are forgiven. Mayor Dize, before he was a candidate, expressed during public participation in March 2017 his dissatisfaction with the turbine, especially the jet- engine noise that he can hear at his home, and its blinking red light.

Mr. Dize, a former councilman, was not a member of the council when the “windmill” was approved in 2013, having resigned due to busineses reasons in February 2011 a few months into his second term.

With a waxing moon overhead is Crisfield’s 750 kW wind turbine, which is saving the city money on electricity but that savings will be reduced when the warranty ends in early 2022. It started generating power in 2017 with 2018 the first full year it was in operation.