PORTSMOUTH – Encouraged by a brisk northwesterly, the Portsmouth wind turbine’s three immense blades started to turn Sunday afternoon at around 3.
It was a sight not seen for a month and one that was cause for rejoicing by neighbor Gary Crosby.
“What a relief, a great feeling,” Mr. Crosby said first Monday. “I can show my face around town again.”
First thing Monday morning, he stopped by for a closer look.
“I made a trip over just to check the meter. It had been going 18 hours, so far so good,” said the town’s assistant town planner and the man who oversees the town’s wind turbine operation. The meter revealed that the turbine had churned out 19,000 kW since startup.
It’s been frustrating ordeal for Mr. Crosby and the others involved with the turbine. After working flawlessly for well over a year, the turbine had begun shutting itself down for no apparent reason this fall, requiring Mr. Crosby to start it up manually almost daily.
Technicians from Lumus, the company hired by Portsmouth to maintain the turbine spent days working on it, determined that a software problem was to blame, and got it running again on December 7. Just 45 minutes later they “started getting all sorts of crazy electrical readings” so shut it down. A look up in the nacelle revealed that the slip ring had failed.
That ring, a rotating shaft with conducting plates of copper and gold contacted by brushes, is a hub for all of the monitoring circuitry – “It is basically an electrical contact on a rotating shaft.”
The vital and expensive part had to be shipped from Germany at a time when much of Europe was in the grips of one blizzard after another.
Lumus technicians have been in town for days since, joined on several occasions by a technician from Windtec, the company that provided the control mechanisms and software.
They replaced the slip ring only to discover that the ‘PLC (programmable logic controller) modules’ needed replacing. These software elements were found stocked at a turbine in nearby Princeton, Mass.
Late last week, the technicians installed the PLC software, wrapped up annual maintenance chores, topped off the generator box oil and by Sunday it was ready to go.
Mr. Crosby praised the efforts of Lumus and said that he now feels “very confident” that the turbine is “good to go.”
It is also heartening, he said, that Windtec has agreed to pay for the damaged slip ring (it had supplied the original) although Portsmouth will have to pay for the repair’s labor costs. The episode happened after AAER, the Canadian firm that provided the turbine, went bankrupt, leaving Portsmouth without a service provider.
The episodes have wiped out a generating and revenue surplus that the turbine had been building.
Losing most of December, the turbine finished calendar year 2010 at 94 percent of estimated production. “It still covered costs and then some,” Mr. Crosby said.
And so far for this fiscal year (starting July 1, 2010), the turbine has produced 81 percent of expected power.
“But with the windy months of January, February and March ahead, I think we can make up that ground pretty quickly,” he said.
Power payment controversy
Asked about a Providence Journal report on an effort to possibly adjust downward the formula by which Portsmouth is paid for the power its turbine produces, Mr. Crosby said that he is not overly concerned about the impact here.
“I really don’t know how this will play out here. This is something that is between the Public Utilities Commission, National Grid and the legislature,” he said.
“I doubt that it could effect us because we should be grandfathered in … We are certainly in line with the intent of the legislation.
“The real dampening effect if this happens will be on Jamestown, Tiverton, every other town that is excited about starting a turbine project. Everyone will throw up their hands and walk away which would be the real shame,” especially at a time when fuel costs are rising a rapid clip. “We ought to be encouraging this sort of effort.”
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