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Navy tests the wind

Engineers at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station are conducting a research project which could lead to clean and cost-free generation of one-quarter of Ault Field’s electricity requirements.

Last week crews erected a pole approximately 150-feet high, fitted with anemometers that are measuring wind velocity and direction.

“It is a wind study for the possibility of wind generation in the future,” said Ken Opdyke, an electrical engineer with the public works department at the base. “Before you do something like that, you want some sort of information to prove it’s viable.”

Favorable test results over the next two years would lead to another project, slated for fiscal year 2006, that would install two or three permanent poles with wind turbines at the top.

Wind power would spin the turbines, generating an estimated two megawatts of electricity daily. Ault Field’s current electrical energy consumption is about seven to 8 megawatts daily.

While the wind turbine-generated electricity would be free power, there would be an initial cost of the turbine system. That cost is under study and is yet to be determined, Opdyke said.

The test pole is located near Gallery Golf Course, up a bluff from the waterfront. The area was selected because it is away from naval air station flight operations, it’s near the water with few obstructions such as treelines, and yet it is close to power lines to which the possible future turbines could be hooked to route the power back to Ault Field, Opdyke said.

A data collection computer system, which runs on batteries, is attached to the pole. It records the wind information from three anemometers attached to the pole at various heights. The results are recorded constantly and averaged every 10 minutes. Opdyke visits the site periodically to remove and replace a computer card that stores the information. He brings that card back to his office to download, save and analyze the data.

The cost of the test pole and installation was $26,000. The pole has two red lights at the top, one lit constantly and the other for backup in case the first one goes out. The red lights make the pole visible to aviators. The lights are powered by attached solar panels. The pole is secured into the ground and held in place by wires coming from the top of the pole, out in all directions, and secured to the ground. Special orange sign-type attachments, called bird deflectors, are hooked to the wires. These make the wires visible to birds, “so they don’t get tangled up,” Opdyke said.

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