PIGEON – In November Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker Elementary School students, staff, and other school and local officials celebrated the return of the elementary turbines spinning in the wind after having been shut down due to an order from DTE Energy a couple of months earlier. It was a day many people in the district had been waiting for.
Since that celebration, people have noticed the turbines haven’t been spinning on a regular basis. Some days they’re spinning, but other days they’re not – even if the wind is strong.
Brion Dickens, of Woodland Winds LLC and project manager for the school district’s turbine project, said the bitter cold weather has been the main culprit for the turbines not spinning all the time. The turbines freeze up because the oil used to lubricate the gears isn’t the right kind of oil for the cold winter weather. The oil gets too thick; therefore, it doesn’t do its job. A new kind of lubricant needs to be found that is cold-weather friendly.
Dickens also said the weather instruments on the turbines freeze up and the turbine won’t turn itself on when the wind speed gets to at least 9 or 10 mph, the minimum wind speed needed for turbine blades to spin. He said heaters need to be installed on the brake system and the gear box.
Of course, these things cost money, which is in short supply. The grant money from the Michigan Public Service Commission to start the turbine project has been spent.
Dickens said he is in regular contact with Enxco, the company that’s been remanufacturing the turbines. The turbines previously had been used in California on a large wind farm, so they’ve needed to be rebuilt in order to operate them on the Laker campus.
Dickens noted the turbines are more than 20 years old.
“At that age, they’re more apt to have weather-related issues,” he said.
Another problem came during the recent ice storm and the loss of power. The electrical grid went down the night of the storm, Dickens said, and DTE’s safety equipment (which DTE required the school have before it could operate on the electrical grid) tripped the turbines off the grid.
“DTE never showed us how to turn its safety system back on,” Dickens said. “We were waiting for authorization to turn the turbines on again.”
That authorization came earlier this week from Energy Now, a subsidiary of DTE that is a power monitoring company. Dickens said an Energy Now representative called to ask why the turbines weren’t in operation, which made Dickens chuckle. He informed them of the ice storm situation, and he received permission to put the turbines back in operation.
Dickens said he eventually figured out how to turn the safety system on again. However, after Dickens got the turbines going again, there was hardly any wind to turn the blades.
So, as one can see, there’s been one problem after another with getting the turbines to work continuously. When the weather warms up, Dickens said, at least two of the turbines should spin on days with enough wind speed. One of the turbines has a problem that still needs to be worked on, and Dickens said he is working with Enxco on the issue. He said initially, he thought the problem had to do with blade balance, but he’s since found out otherwise.
“The part that turns the turbine in and out of the wind is worn out,” he said. He said the part is called the yaw drive, and fixing the problem could require that the turbine be completely disassembled. He said Enxco will send a technician to work out the kinks in that turbine and any other kinks in the other two.
Dickens said even though all three 65 kilowatt turbines have not been operating at all times, the turbines’ operation has produced $5,000 worth of power since Dec. 5. He said the projected goal, with all three in operation, is to produce $30,000 worth of power in a year, so the $5,000 with just two in part-time operation is very good.
By Tracy L. Weisenbach
The Huron Daily Tribune
7 March 2007
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