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UMPI windmill running after ‘frustrating’ few months

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – A series of mechanical problems over the past seven months has slowed the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s 600-kilowatt wind turbine, but college officials said Tuesday that the 295-foot windmill was again up and running and they are hopeful that the glitches have been resolved.

Don Zillman, the president of the college, said Tuesday the windmill was not operational for about 70 days over the past seven months because of problems contractors believe are related to the turbine’s delicate sensor system. The college partnered with general contractor Lumus Construction Inc. on the $2 million project to install the turbine.

Because of contractual obligations and issues related to product warranties, the contractor is the only company that can maintain and repair the windmill. They have offices in Woburn, Mass. and Portland.

The college has a 2-year warranty on the windmill.

“Not only have we dealt with the need to install some new parts this year, it takes time to get the parts delivered and travel time also impacts how quickly we can get someone up to Presque Isle to correct the problem,” said Zillman. “It has been frustrating, but we were told today that they believe they have solved the sensor problems.”

In May of 2009, UMPI became the first university campus in the state – and one of only a handful in New England – to install a midsized wind turbine to generate power.

The project was financed by UMPI’s internal savings, together with a $50,000 grant from theMaine Public Utilities Commission.

Campus officials said they anticipated that the turbine would produce about 1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and save the institution more than $100,000 annually in electricity charges. When fully operational, the turbine is expected to save an estimated 572 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year.

From July 1, 2009, to the end of March 2010, the university saw $85,000 in savings because of the windmill, according to figures provided by the university.

“We are still crunching the numbers to see what the figures are in terms of savings and production for the year ending June 30,” Zillman said Tuesday. “The fact that we’ve had these problems has been frustrating because we have lost some of what I believe has been a good wind year, so we haven’t been able to reap the full benefits of that. But every kilowatt hour that we produce on campus is one that we do not have to purchase from electric suppliers.”

Zillman has said that UMPI wants to wait five years to get an accurate reading of how the project is working.

In order to be as transparent as possible, the university’s website features an online program that displays up-to-the-minute data points about UMPI’s turbine. College officials worked with the turbine manufacturer, turbine contractor and Honeywell Corp. to secure and operate the instrumentation that allows detailed measurements to be transmitted online.

The data include the latest wind-speed figures and power generation in kilowatt-hours. All of that information and more is accessible atwww.umpi.edu/wind and by clicking on “Live Turbine Data.”

Zillman said the next step is to get the instrumentation up and running so the turbine data can be displayed on the site again.