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The University of Maine Presque Isle is considering installing a solar energy array, among other potential renewable energy projects, as a replacement for the wind turbine that suffered a mechanical failure and fire last April.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The University of Maine Presque Isle is considering installing a solar energy array, among other potential renewable energy projects, as a replacement for the wind turbine that suffered a mechanical failure and fire last April.

On April 1, 2018, UMPI’s 9-year-old wind turbine was taken offline by a fire that destroyed its nacelle, the site of the turbine’s generator, gearbox and other key mechanical components. The fire burned itself out in about 45 minutes and no one was injured.

An insurance investigation into the fire recently wrapped up and confirmed that it was caused by a mechanical failure, according to a university press release.

UMPI is set to receive an insurance claim for the failure, covering the cost of the fire, the clean-up, and the wind turbine itself at a depreciated value, according to the university.

Meanwhile, campus officials and members of the university’s Green Committee are exploring renewable energy projects that could generate at least as much energy as the turbine did. The 600 kilowatt turbine was installed in 2009 at a cost of $2 million and generated 4.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity, the equivalent of powering 436 average American homes, according to the university.

UMPI also has a 20 kilowatt, 90-panel solar photovoltaic system on the roof of Pullen Hall, a biomass boiler and heat pumps that were installed in 2011 in a $2.3 million energy efficiency renovation of the Pullen building.

Ben Shaw, UMPI’s chief business officer, said in the press release that a range of options are being considered, ‘from a new wind turbine to solar.”

“We’re working closely with our Green Committee to ensure that any new project replaces the energy that was produced by the wind turbine,” Shaw said.

One option being explored involves installing a solar array at the site of the turbine, where electrical infrastructure is available to connect into the campus grid.

Shaw said UMPI is in the process of seeking a firm to generate a design for the project, and would consider the project for installation in the summer of 2020.

“This will result in a design that we can then use to make decisions about how best to move forward,” Shaw said in the press release.  

“It’s important to note that this is not a final decision about whether UMPI will establish a solar array, but it will allow us to make a detailed comparison of our alternative energy options and what will work best long-term for our campus.”

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