HANCOCK -- Owners of the Berkshire Wind Project -- with 10 wind turbines atop Brodie Mountain -- say the project's average annual power generation is approaching 40 percent of maximum capacity, or about five percentage points above expectations.
The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. (MMWEC) released figures recently showing that in January -- one of the windiest months of the year for Brodie Mountain -- power production reached 56.4 percent of capacity. That comes to 6.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity, or enough to power 9,000 homes for a month, based on an average 700 kilowatt hours per house per month, according to David Tuohey, director of communications for MMWEC.
The MMWEC is a nonprofit coalition of municipally owned public power utilities in eastern and central Massachusetts. Its membership of 21 utilities includes those owned by Ashburnham, Holyoke, Ipswich, Princeton, Wakefield and West Boylson. The coalition works together in purchasing and generating power for use by its members.
Berkshire Wind production in January exceeded production in January 2012, which was clocked at 52.9 percent. In contrast, the lowest production month was in August 2012, when the project generated 16 percent of capacity. Each of the projects 10, 1.5-megawatt turbines are capable of reaching 1.5 megawatts of output at any given time, if the winds are high enough. Tuohey said the turbines have hit capacity a few times, but because winds are intermittent,
Tuohey said normal production for a project of this size and in this area averages around 35 percent annually.
"But because Brodie Mountain is one of the best [windiest] sites in the state, we should be able to get to 40 percent, and we're getting close to that," Tuohey said. "Right now we're at about 36 percent annually. In May, we'll have two full years of data, and I'm thinking we'll be at around 38 percent."
While the turbines have generated enough electricity to power 9,000 average homes in a year, they provide just a fraction of MMWEC's power needs, but an important part. Officials say that with a varied portfolio of renewable power generation coming from solar and wind, they are less dependent on carbon-based fuels, and are setting the stage for even more renewable sources of energy.
During the first six months of operation after its May 2011 startup, there were equipment issues that hampered production levels, thus reducing the first year's annual production average, Tuohey noted. But since those issues have been resolved, production is approaching expectations.
The project was delayed for about a year in 2010 due to litigation. During that time, the parts of the 10 wind turbines sat in storage in a field in Stephentown, N.Y., which may have led to computer and circuit board degradation -- issues that were discovered and repaired during the first few months of operation, Tuohey said.
There have also been a few instances when the project was shut down due to weather issues. The communication cable between the project and the electrical substation was lost during a couple of storms and had to be repaired before the project could be restarted. And during Hurricane Sandy, operators shut the operation down for a few hours anticipating winds in excess of the turbines' maximum capacity of 62 miles per hour.
"We're pleased with project operations to date," Tuohey said.
"The better the production, the better it becomes for our customers," said Peter Dion, general manager of the Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department, a member of MMWEC and 11 percent owner of the Berkshire Wind Project.
He noted that Berkshire Wind provides about 1.5 percent of the municipal-owned utility's total power production portfolio.
"The first year we worked out all the bugs and now it's working just great for us," Dion said.