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Obsolescence of wind turbines worries Springview

SPRINGVIEW – Nothing lasts forever, it’s often said.

But two wind turbines here have neared the end of their useful life in only nine years – less than half of their anticipated lifespan. It’s because wind technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and leaving early wind farms, such as this one, in the dust.

This pair of pioneer turbines put Springview on the map just nine years ago, as a U.S. Department of Energy demonstration site to test the feasibility of small wind farms. They were Nebraska’s first commercial wind turbines. With a capacity of 750 kilowatts each, the duo generates enough electricity to power about 350 homes – less than half of what today’s turbines can do.

The turbines have been plagued with repair and maintenance issues, causing extensive downtime and expense.

“We’ve invested a lot of dollars into these turbines,” said Rich Walters, KBR Rural Public Power District’s general manager in Ainsworth. “We have determined that it would be much more economical to replace them, rather than to keep repairing them.”

KBR is one of six utility partners owning the project, and it provides the local maintenance for the facility.

The 79-foot long, reinforced fiberglass turbine blades have developed some stress cracks. Walters said blade failure would ruin the turbines and any salvage value they might have.

The open lattice framework towers have proven to be less efficient than the newer tubular steel towers. Parts are exposed to weather, and maintenance must be done from the outside, sometimes requiring bringing in large cranes from great distances at a huge cost. In the tubular towers, parts are protected from the elements, and crews can access repair points from within the towers.

There is no timetable established yet for decommissioning the existing turbines or replacing them with newer technology.

“We plan to keep them running for a while yet, but we will be monitoring the cracking very closely,” Walters said. “We are looking at all options and alternatives.”

The partners are in agreement that they want to continue to maintain the site for wind power. They will be attending an international wind energy meeting in California in early June to investigate new technology. They have already held informal talks with a European manufacturer eager to exhibit its technology in the U.S.

“There’s nothing firm,” Walters said. “We’re kicking tires at this point, trying to find out what is available.”

By Sandy Benson

Norfolk Daily News

30 May 2007