Powering up

The Cranston Herald ·

The truck is parked outside J. Palmieri’s Pizzeria & Pub on Plainfield Pike. The engine is running but no one is inside. Not for long. Mark DePasquale is on the move. He’s grabbed some lunch to go and now he’s got 45 minutes before a conference call on another deal he’s working on.

It’s enough time for a tour of what will soon be the state’s largest onshore wind farm – seven towering wind turbines that will be visible from across Rhode Island capable of producing 21 megawatts of electricity capable of powering about 8,200 homes.

As of this week three of the turbines have been erected and work is progressing on the other four. Tuesday found a portion of one tower standing while a crew prepared giant tube-like sections to be lifted by a crane that reached into the morning fog. All seven turbines are expected to be producing power by the end of this year.

DePasquale, founder and chairman of Green Development LLC, has owned and operated a number of construction-related businesses, but renewable energy has become his passion. Wind power is just one source DePasquale is developing. On the drawing board is the development of a series of solar farms that when up and running would generate 300 megawatts. He said he’s also exploring hydropower and further down the road, power storage on a grand scale with batteries. He says the technology is being developed that would allow solar and wind generated power, which is dependent on weather and the sun to be stored so it is available on demand.

DePasquale is no stranger to wind power. He lives in North Kingstown. He built the wind turbine not far from his home in 2012 that is visible from Route 4. It was his first. He also erected a 10-wind turbine farm in Coventry.

The seven turbines being erected in Johnston, all with the exception of one that is in a field, are on the fringes of the state landfill and will loom over either land being used for the stockpiling of mulch, scrap metals and composting heaps.

That was a part of the reason for selecting the Johnston sites: they were away from residential areas and in places where there is considerable commercial activity. The other reason is the wind. More than a year ago DePasquale erected what appears to be a radio tower in the midst of the seven sites. Its instrumentation has been recording wind conditions ever since.

“That tells the bank how much they can loan us,” says DePasquale.

The wind must be worth a lot, as DePasquale said the overall project represents a $100 million investment. Assuming winds live up to their reputation and electric prices are stable – the power will be sold to Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence Housing Authority, the Town of Scituate and National Grid – DePasquale said the development should pay for itself in eight to 10 years.

Each of the sites – 200 square feet – appears insignificant for the investment made so far. The base of each turbine is cylindrical, rising no more than two feet from the ground. Appearances are deceptive, for as DePasquale explains, construction started almost a year ago and the subterranean foundation to each turbine is made up of 1,000 cubic yards of cement. Like giant beer cans stacked one on top of the next, each tower will reach 373 feet into the sky. A crane climbing nearly 500 feet lifts the sections into place with the final components being the permanent magnetic generator and the three blades to power it.

DePasquale’s romance with renewal energy started seven years ago when his daughters, Olivia and Rachel, then aged 10 and 20, questioned why as a building site contractor he had to cut down so many trees. They had a point, and he began his research.

“Once I started it, I really enjoyed it,” he said.

He connected with Vensys, based in Neukirchen, Germany, through a trade show, becoming friends with Bjorn Schafer, who is overseeing a German team doing the installation here. What attracted DePasquale to Vensys is the design of their turbines that has minimized moving parts while simplifying others. Unlike the troublesome turbine in Portsmouth that DePasquale acquired, dismantled and then replaced, Vensys does not use a gearbox for its generators but rather a magnet-excited multi-polar generator. In place of ring gears on the blades that would require removing the blades to repair, a belt is used to rotate the blades for wind conditions. The turbine control system and power converters are housed at the base of the tower, enabling easy access.

The generators, control systems and power converters are built in Germany. A Vensys company in Spain manufactures the blades.

Once converted, “clean power” is carried through underground cables to a transformer and network of aboveground power lines that DePasquale has built to tie the system into the power grid.

Maximum power output is achieved with winds of 22 MPH. Once winds reach 50 MPH, blades are feathered to stop rotation and the turbine shuts down. The turbines are monitored off-site and can be controlled locally as well as in Germany, DePasquale said.

“It really runs itself,” he said.

The Johnston array of seven wind turbines makes it the state’s largest onshore wind farm. By comparison, Deepwater off Block Island is comprised of five turbines with a total output of 30 megawatts.

DePasquale said the project has developed positive relationships with a number of local businesses. He cites in particular H & B Welding of Johnston and Mass Electric.

It is with irony that DePasquale makes a stop at the site that started him thinking of placing the wind farm near the landfill in the first place.

“You can see all the way to Fall River,” he says.

He’s right. There on the horizon are the two cooling towers from the now closed coal-fired Brayton Point power plant.

“You know, they’ll see us,” he says of Fall River residents.

And what they’ll be looking at is a new and clean source of power.