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Brodie Mountain wind power production figures explained

HANCOCK – Brodie Mountain is the site of the largest operating wind farm in the state. The Berkshire Wind Power Project consists of 10 1.5-megawatt turbines that began operating two years ago, in May 2011.

According to the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), part owners of the wind project along with 14 Massachusetts municipal utilities, the annual power generation for the Brodie Mountain turbines is close to 40 percent of maximum capacity.

The Berkshire Wind Power Project has a maximum capacity to produce 15 megawatts of electricity at any given time. According to David Tuohey, director of communications for MMWEC, “There have been times, in high wind periods, when the project is producing 15 megawatts of electricity, operating at essentially full capacity.”

But in general, the turbines operate at only a fraction of their capacity output because wind is intermittent. The capacity factor is a percentage reflecting actual electricity produced compared to production potential.

“For the Brodie Mountain site, there were estimates that a wind project at that site could produce power at a capacity factor of about 40 percent, and that’s real high, for a wind project,” Mr. Tuohey explained.

But, the wind project is getting close to that 40 percent projection.

“Since it began operating, we’re at about 36 percent capacity factor,” said Mr. Tuohey.

In a letter to the editor published May 4, 2013 in The Berkshire Eagle, Ashfield resident Walter Cudnohufsky questioned this power generation percentage.

“Such performance, even at an obviously windy site, is unprecedented,” he wrote.

Mr. Cudnohufsky wants Mr. Tuohey to back up MMWEC’s announced capacity factor figure of 36 percent.

“Show me the math. Show me the data that says that’s true,” Mr. Cudnohufsky said in a phone interview with the Beacon.

Mr. Tuohey explained the math behind the 36 percent capacity factor: the turbines’ annual power generation, from May 2012 through April 2013, was 47,270,733 kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough to power 5,600 homes for the year.

The maximum potential output, calculated by multiplying 15 MW (or 15,000 kW) times 24 hours a day times 365 days a year, is equal to 131,400,000 kWh of electricity. The capacity factor is then calculated by dividing the actual output, 47,270,733 kWh, by the potential output, 131,400,000 kWh. That figure comes to about 36 percent.

But Mr. Cudnohufsky would like to see the wind project’s power generation data for himself. In his letter to the editor, he described his failed attempt to obtain the wind project’s energy production records from Mr. Tuohey. On April 19, Mr. Cudnohufsky received a letter from Mr. Tuohey denying his request for the data.

Mr. Cudnohusky said he just wants honesty and transparency, and the fact that he cannot access the energy production records makes him think there might be “something fishy going on.”

Mr. Tuohey explained why the data is not publicly available.

“The generation data for any electric generator in New England is considered to be competitively sensitive and it’s protected from disclosure,” he said. “Generally, it’s because New England’s wholesale power markets are a highly competitive marketplace, and protecting the generation data from disclosure is generally viewed as removing an opportunity for competitors to use that information to manipulate the market for their own benefit and at the expense of consumers.”

Besides his skepticism regarding the Brodie Mountain wind turbines power production figures, Mr. Cudnohufsky expressed concern about wind power in general.

“I have grave doubts about industrial wind working,” he said.

He is particularly concerned about siting wind turbines atop New England ridges.

“In New England, there’s not sufficient wind to make them work,” he said.

So far, however, Brodie Mountain has proven to be a viable site for generating wind power.

“It is one of the best wind sites in the state based on the studies that were performed by the state prior to installation of the project, and also based on our experience operating the project on Brodie Mountain,” said Mr. Tuohey.

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