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Damage to wind turbine at MSUB City College brings opportunity to learn

The wind brought damage to the turbine at Montana State University Billings’ City College, but some are hoping it brought opportunity as well.

Winds reached 69 miles per hour Sunday, damaging the turbine owned and operated by Japan-based manufacturer Taisei Techno and located at City College. Montana State University Billings instructor Francisco Saldivar is hoping to incorporate the incident into his teaching, and Taisei Techno will look to learn from the damage and improve its designs.

“All of this is at Taisei’s cost,” said Rhyno Stinchfield, the president of GreenWorld Partners, a local renewable energy company that has partnered with Japan-based Taisei on this particular turbine project to help with logistics and business. “This whole partnership with MSUB, the financial cost is all footed by Taisei.”

Taisei Techno installed the turbine in 2010 free of charge and plans to eventually donate it to the college. At the time of the turbine’s installation, its value was estimated at more than $100,000.

“Obviously they’re surprised,” said Stinchfield. “They had no expectation that this would happen, but we have to take it in stride, and we will rebuild.”

For Saldivar, the turbine typically plays more of a cursory role in the curriculum for his NRGY 220 Wind Turbine Equipment and Operation class, but the recent incident will give his students an opportunity to take a closer look at the developing technology on their doorstep.

“The turbine is not really embedded in our curriculum,” Saldivar said. “Some of the data from the anemometer and the power produced, we use that type of data in our curriculum.”

However, once Taisei finishes analyzing their data, Saldivar will bring it before his students for study. “I’ll use it in an engineering aspect when Taisei gives me the information on what caused the problem.” Saldivar said. “We’ll discuss that in class and do a case study on the project itself and things that could have been done differently had we had the information then.”

Sometime around February or March, Stinchfield thinks that Taisei will receive an inverter that will allow the turbine to generate power directly for City College’s use. Soon after the inverter is installed, Taisei will turn the turbine over to MSUB. On that day, City College students will be able to physically work on the machine, Saldivar said.

“It’ll be a great opportunity because it’ll provide them with real-world experience being able to maintain a commercial turbine,” Saldivar said.

Stinchfield explained that the turbine is a prototype that Taisei has used in recent years to research the capabilities of different amounts and styles of blades through different turbine designs. When a problem happens with a prototype, an opportunity to learn and improve on designs presents itself – an opportunity, Stinchfield noted, that is “a little bit of an expensive one.”

“There’s a computer linked up to that turbine, and it collects wind data, the RPM (rotations per minute), how fast it was spinning, all kinds of data,” Stinchfield said. “Over the next couple weeks, they’ll be analyzing that information in Japan and determining what the factor was and how we can prevent it from happening again.”

Stinchfield said that this turbine has “been working very well for four years,” but that, “about three years ago, we had a blade break away a little bit.” He noted that Taisei and GreenWorld have gone commercial with smaller versions of the design that withstood the wind storm, like the one at a sustainable energy-powered home on Seventh Avenue North.

For now, the extent of the damage to the turbine at City College is still being assessed. A plan for repair is still in the works while Taisei seeks to understand what went wrong.