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College might shut down wind turbine

MATTOON – A wind turbine at Lakeland College might have too many issues to keep it up and running. The school’s president says fixing one of their wind turbines wouldn’t be worth it. Tonight, he’ll be making his case to the board.

For one Lakeland College student and staff member the wind turbines on campus represent the start of a career. Emil Wolfshoefer says, “I actually just climbed one to climb it once, and I never intended to become a turbine tech here even go into renewable energy… And I was kind of bit by the wind turbine bug.”

Now Wolfshoefer plans to work in a turbine after he finishes school. One thing he’s learned: “With any wind turbine there’s always issues that come into play.”

This one just has a few more than they planned for. It hasn’t generated as much power as they hoped. One issue is the wind in Coles County isn’t as strong or constant as it is in other parts of Central Illinois. Techs like Wolfshoefer had a lot more on their plate in the summer of 2015.

“We’d had some issues, and we kept getting some ground faults and we couldn’t figure out what it was,” Wolfshoefer says.

They found out the south turbine had been struck by lightning and it hasn’t worked properly since. Lakeland President Josh Bullock says it’s just another reason to stop pouring money into fixing it.

He says, “We also know that once you get into that kind of electronic circuitry, and you make initial repairs, there are generally things that you find along the way that could be costly and quite significant to repair.”

The cost they do know is significant – close to $100,000. However, Bullock says it certainly hasn’t been a waste of money. “The turbines have been a great teaching tool for the students.”

He plans to keep it that way. Whether it stays up or not he says they will use what’s left to teach and inspire more students like Wolfshoefer.

Wolfshoefer says, “If anything it will probably wind up being good use for labs for future students… They really do get some invaluable education that way.”

If the south turbine does come down, Wolfshoefer says they might use what they put into that to make the north turbine work more efficiently. Lakeland’s president says a final decision on what to do is probably months away.

Lakeland says they already have a more reliable power source on campus. The college has photovoltaic panels all over campus. They say they’ve been great for power and heat, and they expect them to generate $50,000 to $60,000 dollars this year.