By JASON BROWN, Advocate Acadiana bureau
Published: Jun 8, 2009
WASHINGTON — Louisiana’s third-oldest settlement could become the state’s first to have a wind turbine, bringing it closer to energy independence and ahead of a nationwide call for increased use of renewable resources.
The town of Washington sits off Interstate 49 about eight miles north of Opelousas in St. Landry Parish.
Settled in 1720, Washington, with its 500 or so homes, has long been known as a destination for historic architecture and antiques.
Now it wants to add a new item to that list: Louisiana’s greenest community.
Mayor Joseph Pitre envisions bringing the town off the electrical grid by offsetting energy from the proposed wind turbine with methane gas, which would be pumped in from a nearby landfill that began capturing the gas earlier this year.
“If it works, I see the real estate values going up,” Pitre said. “I see people being grateful they live in Washington. I see other people being envious that they don’t live in Washington.”
The town currently uses services from Cleco.
This plan would be tied to the town’s goal of burying its power lines, which would keep it from having to service lines during and after storms.
The town currently is waiting to hear from the state on whether it qualifies for $350,000 in federal stimulus money, which would be used on a feasibility study for the project. It is but one of many funding sources Pitre intends to tap into.
“We know it works, it’s just a matter of, will it work for us,” he said.
The feasibility study would determine whether the town receives enough wind to power the turbine along with whether it is economically feasible to build the infrastructure needed to bring the methane gas to town.
Andy Vigé believes the town’s site will generate the needed wind.
Vigé is the rancher who has offered to allow the town to use about 5 acres of land on his 290-acre ranch right off I-49 in Washington.
“This is a real unique spot because it is so high up,” Vigé said, adding there always seems to be wind blowing through the area.
The turbine’s location could prove beneficial in terms of both wind production and as a visual aid to passers-by, as it likely will attract an altogether new type of tourist —– those interested in green technology and renewable resources.
“They’d have the first wind turbine in Louisiana, and it would be right off the interstate looking at you,” Harold Schoeffler said.
Schoeffler is working on the project through Wind Energy Systems Technology, a wind turbine company based in New Iberia.
The company also is working with Abbeville in Vermilion Parish on a similar project, which could challenge Washington for the distinction of being first.
Schoeffler said Abbeville has requested a proposal for a hybrid wind/gas electrical power system.
The system would use 50 megawatts worth of wind turbines in Vermilion Bay, an area that could generate large amounts of wind, coupled with an additional 50 megawatts from a natural gas turbine system at Henry Hub, which would serve as a backup.
Washington’s project would be substantially smaller because the town requires only about a megawatt of energy.
To offset its wind turbine, Pitre has been talking with the St. Landry Parish Solid Waste Disposal District about the possibility of purchasing methane gas from the landfill.
Katry Martin, executive director of the district, said the methane gas currently being captured would be enough to power about 500 homes. The problem is that right now the gas is being flared, or burned, because the district lacks a way to use it. Burning the gas is still much better for the environment because it drastically reduces greenhouse emissions.
The system has been operational since around the first of the year.
Martin said the district has been in talks with Pitre, but added that nothing has been decided as of yet.
The district ultimately has to follow through on a plan that best represents taxpayers’ interests, he said.
However, he said the district is “inspired by the mayor’s efforts.”
Pitre said he considers himself a conscientious person more than a green-minded individual, a person “who basically listens to any kind of advice that would end up helping people or being innovative or creative.”
In this case it started with Vigé, who approached him with the idea of putting a wind turbine on his land.
From there it has grown to encompass the work of two students from Louisiana Technical College, Kerri Joseph and Sharon Huff; Andy Hebert, a local authority on renewable resources; Schoeffler and others.
Joseph and Huff are working with the town on the project as part of their entry into the inaugural SkillsUSA National Sustainability Competition.
The two students compose one of eight teams from across the country. The teams will meet June 21-26 in Kansas City. Each team will come armed with sustainability projects that include those that deal with alternative fuels, recycling and green building processes.
In addition to Washington, Joseph and Huff are working on an idea with the Cajundome involving the use of covered parking using a solar canopy, which would help power the coliseum.
Hebert, who teaches a class on solar power at LTC, is serving as a consultant on the project. He said Washington is different in that it has already proven it can be sustainable because most of its buildings were built to fit the environment, which is why most are still standing today.
He said he thinks Washington’s goal is realistic and full of possibilities.
As for the students’ project, “I think it’s something the nation will be pretty excited about,” he said.
Joseph called it an opportunity to make Acadiana proud by making it a better community.
“That’s what we want: a better community for our children and ourselves,” Joseph said. “We don’t want to fall behind. We want to be the leaders in this area.”