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DEQ looks to Kalamazoo community college for $38,000 repair job to Bay City wind turbine

BAY CITY – Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials hope the wind turbine outside their Bay City office can start spinning by the new year, but it’s still up in the air.

Nearly sixth months have gone by since the $250,000 wind turbine has produced any electricity. Officials aren’t sure what the exact problem is, but believe something is wrong with the turbine’s gear box.

They would have the turbine’s original manufacturer, Canada-based Entegrity Wind Systems, examine and repair the system, but the company filed for bankruptcy in late 2009, just months after installing the unit in Bay City at 401 Ketchum St.

“It’s kind of annoying,” said Michael N. Beaulac, who leads Michigan DEQ’s program that tests the effectiveness of solar and wind power. “We had a 20-year maintenance agreement with them, all for naught.”

The DEQ put out a request for bids on the repair, with Colorado-based Ethos Distributed Energy offering a low bid of $72,000.

In an effort to lower that repair bill, DEQ officials sought out Kalamazoo Valley Community College, which has run a 26-week wind turbine academy since fall 2009, training students to become wind turbine technicians.

“Both sides are state government entities, and KVCC was willing to cut a good deal,” said Beaulac. “They also have the same model in their lab, so they’re familiar with the unit.”

Terms of that deal are still being ironed out, but officials say it should be finalized by the end of the month. Beaulac said the state department expects to pay the community college about $38,000 for the repair.

The gear box is a significant component of the wind turbine, said Matthew Eyre, associate professor at Delta College, and developer of the college’s wind energy program, which started at the same time as KVCC’s program.

Much like a transmission in a car, the gearbox speeds up the shaft speed and generates more output into the generator.

“You have to dismantle the turbine, check out all aspects of the gear box, find the problem, check lubrication – it can get pretty intricate,” said Eyre.

The DEQ Bay City office is the department’s only office that features a wind turbine and solar panels. Beaulac said it serves as a guinea pig for the rest of the department’s other nine offices to test the effectiveness of the renewable energy sources.

He added there were some days where the output received from the solar panel and wind turbine exceeded the requirements of the building.

“We’re still curious to know what sort of energy is being produced with this type of wind produced at this elevation… and what are the most appropriate solar panels, because panels react to different wave lengths of light that strike them,” said Beaulac.

The department will potentially look to Saginaw Valley State University and Delta College students to help with that research in the future, Beaulac added.