SPRINGVIEW, Neb. – In this ranching village near the South Dakota border, there’s a Turbine Avenue and a Turbine Mart convenience store and the annual Wind Turbine Days festival.
But soon the two wind turbines that inspired those names – the first in Nebraska when they were erected in 1998 – may be coming down.
Frequent breakdowns and increasingly expensive repairs are dooming the graceful structures.
“We’ve gone through a lot of problems with them. In the last year or two, they’ve gotten really cantankerous,” said Rich Walters, general manager of KBR Rural Public Power District in Ainsworth, Neb., one of six entities that own the turbines.
Local residents expressed surprise that the turbines were wearing out after only nine years. They said they hoped that Springview, population 292, would not lose something that has become a part of the community’s identity.
“They’re a conversation piece,” said LouAnn Carr as she rang up purchases at the Turbine Mart.
“I don’t imagine that people would like it if they didn’t replace them,” said Larry Hespe, a member of the Village Board.
Hespe and Carr said they notice that the east tower is frequently out of service.
Walters, the power company manager, said there’s a strong possibility that the existing wind turbines will be dismantled and sold off as parts while they still have salvage value.
The owners, which include city utilities in Lincoln, Grand Island and Auburn, will meet soon to decide what to do, based on what’s best for their ratepayers, Walters said.
“Our intent is to replace them with another one or two turbines of newer, or the newest, technology,” he said.
A foreign wind turbine manufacturer, he said, is interested in using the site to demonstrate its technology in the United States.
When they were erected, the wind turbines were the largest west of the Mississippi River, according to Walters, and one of seven Department of Energy demonstration sites to determine whether smaller wind farms would be feasible.
The Springview turbines became a tourist attraction, with a small parking lot and display built for visitors, and led to a town festival named for the towering turbines.
But lightning has knocked out the turbines more than once, and technology has passed them by.
Each of the Springview turbines has the capacity to generate .75 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 190 homes each – less than half the capability of newer, larger turbines.
The lattice-style towers at Springview have proved to be less desirable than the taller, tubular steel towers now common in wind farms, Walters said, because parts are exposed to the weather.
When maintenance is required on the Springview towers, cranes must be shipped in from Sioux Falls, S.D., or Omaha, adding to the expense, he said.
“Things change in 10 years.”
The Springview site lost its “state’s largest” distinction when seven turbines were erected near Kimball in 2002. Kimball was bypassed in 2005 when 36 towers were erected near Ainsworth.
Stress cracks were recently discovered in the 79-foot-long, reinforced fiberglass blades. If the blades were to fail, Walters said, it would destroy the turbines, ruining their salvage value.
The deterioration at Springview raises questions about the durability of wind turbines.
One plan to develop wind farms in Nebraska, called Community-Based Energy Development, or CBED, calls for a private company to build the turbines. Then, after 10 years, ownership would transfer to a local farmer or rancher.
Wind turbines require a lot of maintenance, and removing the deeply anchored towers costs money, Walters said. “Wind turbines are not just put them up in the air and walk away.”
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said maintenance is a normal cost of doing business, and he expects CBED participants to invest in long-term maintenance contracts to cover those costs.
“There’s a lot of (wind turbines) out there that have been running for 20 years or better,” he said.
By Paul Hammel
World-Herald Staff Writer
23 May 2007
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