— As has been the trend since February, the August wind turbine report presented Monday during the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission meeting was less than stellar — again foreshadowing the potential demise of wind power in Willmar.
Wind turbine number three, which has been causing the most trouble for
Willmar Municipal Utilities
this year, was available 35.5% of the time in August, according to Facilities and Maintenance Supervisor Kevin Marti. Wind turbine number four was available 61.4% of the time. The total output for the month for the two turbines located near Willmar Senior High School was a lackluster 143,734 kilowatt-hours, for a year-to-date total of approximately 1.653 million kilowatt-hours.
Currently, wind turbine number three is not producing any power while Willmar Municipal Utilities awaits a $95 wire harness to get it back up and running.
"Out of a zillion different sensors in the turbine, there's a wire harness that's failed and we were able to find the wire harness, and ordered one for replacement," Marti said. "It's a $95 wire harness keeping a $6 million turbine standing still. That harness should be in, we're hoping, this week."
In the meantime, the two wind turbine technicians, Matt Krupa and Nick Hillenbrand, are fixing some of the other issues with wind turbine three and working on some cleanup, according to Marti.
"Our two technicians, as Kevin mentioned over and over, are very talented ... but they are getting to the point where they don't know what to do either," said General Manager John Harren.
Due to the significant number of issues the wind turbines have faced this year, Willmar Municipal Utilities plans to take a hard look at the end-of-year numbers in order to determine if continuing to run the turbines is cost-effective, Marti told the Municipal Utilities Commission.
He explained that Willmar Municipal Utilities is currently purchasing power for an average of 6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, which equates to a cost of approximately $112,000 to purchase the amount of power that the wind turbines have produced so far this year.
"I can tell you — I don't have exact numbers — but I can tell you that we are over that (amount of money) from what we've spent in materials and labor so far this year (for the wind turbines)," Marti said. "At the end of this year, we're going to have to take a real hard look at the wind turbines and where they stand, how far we want to go, when enough is enough, those sorts of things."
While the wind turbines were touted as lasting at least 20 years when they were purchased and installed in Willmar in 2009, those who are in the wind turbine industry are finding out that they are lasting only an average of 13 to 16 years, according to Marti.
He told the commission that Willmar is experiencing what others are experiencing.
"In that year 13 to 15 to 16, the wind turbines are causing you enough headaches and costing you enough that they're being either taken down or repowered much sooner than 20 years," Marti said.
Currently, Willmar Municipal Utilities has $2 million penciled into its 2029 budget to decommission the wind turbines, which includes the reclamation of the land on which they are built. The land is leased from Willmar Public Schools for $7,400 per year, according to Marti.
When asked if there are parts that may be resold when the wind turbines are decommissioned, Marti reminded the commission that the new breakers that were ordered last November and finally arrived in July have not been installed as the old breakers were repaired in the meantime.
If the wind turbines are decommissioned before those new breakers are needed, they may be sold as brand new, which is why they are not being installed until absolutely necessary.
He told the commission that there may be some other parts that could be sold, but each wind turbine is completely different on the inside despite being the same DeWind brand.
"It's important the community in general understands, and we all understand, that the wind turbine company doesn't exist anymore," Marti said. "So, if you had a failure of a blade, for example, or one of the huge components that are specific to the wind, you're done. The other components, it's no different than any other piece of machinery. There's a Bosch component here, and a Moventas component here, and a General Electric component here, and they are all put together to make that wind turbine — those parts are available."
However, finding those parts and chasing them down is a whole other issue, he added, noting that it takes time to not only find the part, but it may not be readily available — it may have to be manufactured.
"(Manufacturers) only made it for DeWind in 2007 through 2009 and they made 25 of them and that's it," Marti explained. "Will they make you one? Sure. But right now we've got a $6 million wind turbine shut down for a $95 wire harness that's got specific plugins and wire connections. We can't just run to Radio Shack and make our own. ... It's not that you can't get them, it just takes you so long to get them if they'll make them for you, and then you are out of production for a $100 part."
Harren concurred with Marti, stating, "Will we be able to keep them running until the first of the year? Maybe. It's hard to answer that question, but our goal right now is to look at it at the end of the year — if we can find parts and our guys can keep them going until then. But if we can't, we might be having that discussion sooner."
He explained that one of the biggest drivers in determining if it is worth continuing to repair and keep the wind turbines running is the cost comparison to wholesale power and the availability of parts. He noted that it took almost a year to get the new breakers and the wind turbines were down for several months. It has been almost two months that Willmar Municipal Utilities has been awaiting the wire harness.
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