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Learning about wind power

Have you ever driven down the Heritage Highway or glanced up at Bear Mountain and wondered why, despite a seemingly breezy day, not all of the blades are turning?

Rich Hall, an instructor of the Wind Turbine Maintenance Technician program at Northern Lights College, explained this and some of the other inner workings of wind turbines and how the program prepares students for the growing industry for the Rotary Club of Dawson Creek’s Vocational Month.

“There are four wind farms across B.C., and we have three,” said Hall, a past member of the Rotary Club and current member of the Sunrise Club.

Last summer, Hall was sent to Germany to train at the internationally recognized BZEE Education Centre for Renewable Energies, in order to offer BZEE certification at the college.

“You know, 50 per cent of the electricity in northern Germany is produced by wind turbines,” Hall recalled being told by one of the directors of BZEE. “These are not toys.”

He said that there are few places in the northern parts of the country that you can look out and not see a turbine.

“Locally – jobs in wind energy – it’s a bit limited but it’s growing and will be growing rapidly,” said Hall.

He noted that Vestas Wind Systems, who built the Dokie and Tumbler Ridge wind farms, have plans to expand extensively on existing land. He also noted that by 2020, it has been predicted that the number of wind farms in the province will rise to 40.

Enercon, who built Dawson Creek’s Bear Mountain Wind Farm, donated a turbine blade to NLC’s program for practical study. Enercon’s turbines are capable of producing 3 megawatts of renewable energy each, and Bear Mountain sports 34 of them.

Hall said NLC’s program focuses on teaching the mechanics of the more commonly used gearbox wind turbines, as are used by Vestas. The alternative, which is employed by Enercon’s systems, is direct drive – which Hall likens to a vehicle alternator.

Hall said there has been a recent interest in making wind turbine technology an official trade, and said it’s something that could be coming down the road.

As for function, Hall explained that turbines are designed to self-start at a particular windspeed. Once the on-board weather system clocks that windspeed consistently, the yaw system orients the blades to the wind, and after about five minutes the generator kicks in to start putting power into the system.

Barring holdups for maintenance or other reasons turbines may be shut off, Hall explained, it’s these internal systems that cause the turbine to stop or go.