Friday, August 28, 2009

High on Aquidneck

Abbey Wind Turbine in Narragansett Bay

Some times things fall into place quickly. We'd like to think that that means they were supposed to happen or that some heavenly force is at work directing our steps. I don't know about that but it is nice to think so and sometimes things do fall into place with a rapidity that makes them seem heaven sent. They certainly did for us recently in our quest for great images in the Narragansett Bay area.

We passed the large wind turbine that has recently been erected by the town of Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island. It occurred to us that a shot from the top would help us live up to the aerial part of our name and that it would very likely be quite spectacular. I poked around the website for the town of Portsmouth and eventually found the email and name of a man who I could contact about the possibility of getting up to the top. He responded in short order and with some enthusiasm for our work and for the idea of taking a panorama from the top. He didn't hold out much hope about getting to the top however as the company that erected it still controls access and they haven't been very cooperative of late. Our idea of taking a photo from the top of a turbine was quickly tied up in a combination of governmental red tape and corporate ill will. It turns out that they're being sued by every contractor who worked on the job but more on that later.

It took a few days to dawn on me that the Portsmouth turbine is not the only turbine on Aquidneck Island. The first turbine was erected at the Abbey School, also in Portsmouth. An email to someone in the administration earned me a response from Brother Joseph. Brother Joseph teaches at the school and has been an integral part of the turbine's existence since it appeared above his head like a light bulb signaling a good idea years ago. He interviewed all of the neighbors. He asked for and evaluated bids. He "did the math" and found the funding. He watched it go up and start turning and he's been speaking about it ever since on behalf of the school.

There's a lot of good things to say. It's only been in operation in light winds for about 3 years and yet it has nearly paid back the initial investment on the part of the school. That includes some substantial grant money but no tax breaks since the school is a non profit. Without the grant the payback period would have been extended a couple of years. With a payback period of 3-5 years and an expected life of 25 years and the current value of the electricity generated at something like $200k per anum ... the book keepers are happy.

Drawbacks? Are there scads of people in the area coming down with the mysterious "turbine syndrome?" No. Noise? A pleasant swish swish. Sub Aural Noise? No one can hear it. That's what sub aural means. If a herd of elephants were passing through the area there might be a problem with sub aural noise but none have appeared of late. Are their dozens of students running around the base of the turbine with crazed looks in their eyes saying "the blades! ... please stop the blades!!" No. None of that. Drawbacks seem to amount to the fact that there are a few houses and a few buildings on campus that in the right wind and atmospheric conditions get the shadows of the blades passing their windows ... that's annoying but only for short periods of time. Don't forget: the shadow is moving. It doesn't show up on cloudy days. It disappears when the turbine turns sideways to the sun. I don't know if the whole neighborhood turns to the turbine each morning and sends a silent blessing to Br. Joseph and what he's done for green energy in Rhode Island but on the whole it seems to be thought of as a good thing.

Brother Joseph liked the idea of a high definition panorama taken from the top of his turbine. He often has to climb it but can't share the magnificent view with too many people because of safety concerns. Now with the panorama he can. We had to wait for over a week for the weather to clear in the aftermath of Hurricane Bill. The week of August 24th began with some clear air but a lot of wind. Finally, on Thursday, the wind died and the sun came out and sky turned blue from horizon to horizon. We had our window of opportunity! Three of us strapped on our safety harnesses and made the 170' climb to the nacelle of the turbine. Brother Joseph assured us that we'd just joined a select group of people that had been allowed to make the climb. We certainly felt lucky to be that high in sky.

When our pulses had returned to normal Chris took the equipment from the bag that had been hoisted to the top from the rear of the nacelle. He had it all functioning in fairly short order and Brother Joseph and I climbed out onto the roof to place the camera and its robotic mount on top. The wind was so light that we didn't even anchor it down. Chris hit the trigger. The mount spun. The camera clicked and we had our panorama. Our hope is that it'll find it's way into one of Br. Joseph's powerpoint presentations and will be projected onto the wall in front of a series of enthusiastic audiences that are interested in sharing this part of Brother Joseph's journey. What very few of them can do in reality, they can all do virtually from the safety of their chair while they learn about the ins and outs of erecting wind turbines.

Fair Journey,

Brian Shriver

Aerial Vr - "Your location in high definition virtual reality."
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Paul Pence said...

Excellent panorama! I zoomed in on the other windmill and then showed it to my wife, backing up until she could see that we were on top of the Portsmouth Abbey windmill, then panned around to show her the rest of the island.

Guest said...

What a beautiful view! How can I join the club of the chosen few and climb and get the real thing? Actually this is a very good second !

This is the blog of Aerial Vr ( We create virtual reality photographs for viewing on the web. We also send our cameras into the sky on a variety of kites and blimps to see the world from a bird's eye view. We're blogging about our experiences as this exciting new technology and the market around it develops. We're also dedicated to developing a resource for visitors to the Narragansett Bay & Southcoast areas so that they can explore in virtual reality before they come. Try the links above to see all of the content we present in this blog, especially the "Vr Map" link which presents information with a Google map as starting point. "Home" will bring up several recent posts. Or page downwards and try the "Labels" or "Blog Archives" to bring up blog posts and panoramas from our expanding portfolio that fall within a given category. Fair Winds!

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