A-W wind turbine: Consultant’s most challenging project to date

Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

by Julie Ann Madden

“This (wind turbine) project is the most complicated and challenging project we’ve encountered to date,” said Dr. Harold Prior of First Priority Consultants of Milford, which is the firm just hired to try to resolve the Akron-Westfield School District’s inoperable wind turbine problems.

After just a month on the job, Prior presented his first report to the Akron-Westfield School Board at their Oct. 8 meeting.

“The turbine is in a very good state of cleanliness,” said Prior, “and all repairs have been done by professionals — it’s in much better shape than some 15-year-old turbines I’ve seen.”

After a review of all the documents the district has on the wind turbine, Prior noted it is critical to find a resolution to repair the turbine as the land easement and Purchased Power agreements “call for removal of the wind turbine if it cannot be returned to an operational condition within one year.”

It was noted there are two landowners involved but the district only has an agreement with one of them. However, the district treats both landowners equally according to the one agreement.

“While there may be some flexibility in this time frame, it’s imperative that a solution be identified as soon as reasonably possible,” wrote Prior in a one-page report, adding orally in his personal report to the board “It has generated some revenue in 2012 (so it was operational at some point this year).”

One vendor has already inspected the turbine and at least three other potential vendors have been invited to make an onsite assessment and provide estimates for repairing the turbine, selling it and/or removing the turbine, he said.

Prior informed the board that one question needs to be answered before any sale or repair is proposed.

It appears that “blade extenders” or “oversized blades” were originally installed, he explained. This means Model V-47 blades may have been installed on the district’s Vestas 600 kW Model V-44 turbine.

The length of the wind turbine’s blades will need to be measured to confirm this, he said, explaining it wasn’t unusual for such blades to be installed on V-44 models in Denmark, which has much more moderate winds than here. Increasing the blade size increases the turbine’s electrical output, and A-W’s wind turbine produces electricity at a high rate. However, the existing Valmet gearbox can’t handle the increase in blade size.

One remedy would be to purchase a remanufactured turbine with properly-sized blades, said Prior, noting the district would receive trade-in value for the wind turbine’s existing nacelle, which includes not only the gearbox but other parts needing replaced such as the turbine’s generator. The remanufactured turbine would have a warranty period.

New relatively-inexpensive technology, a computer software application, could also be purchased to solve the wind turbine’s lightning strike issues, he said, noting A-W’s wind turbine is the highest point for many miles.

To pay to fix the wind turbine, there are low-interest rate loans available through the Iowa Energy Bank, said Prior who has spoken with an Iowa Department of Administrative Services contact who believes the district’s wind turbine would qualify. On the other hand, contacts with the USDA Community Development Block grant program do not believe grants would be available, and grants only cover 25 percent of project costs.

On a positive note, A-W’s wind turbine is a “poster child” for making legislative changes to school districts’ wind turbine funding. Currently, wind turbines can be purchased with Physical Plant & Equipment Levy (PPEL) or School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) taxes. However, all repairs and maintenance must come out of the district’s General Fund.

Prior reported a conversation with Governor Terry Branstad and the Iowa Wind Energy Association officials revealed it “might be as simple as an administrative language change” to the PPEL/SILO laws and this was being investigated now.

A-W’s wind turbine generates electrical revenues at 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour above the avoided costs, which is good news, said Prior, reporting about a meeting with Akron Public Works Director Gary Horton. In addition, Heartland Consumers Power District is increasing its wholesale supply rates by 5 percent in January 2013, which means the district will pay 5 percent more for electricity as well as receive 5 percent more for electricity the wind turbine produces. Economically, this means A-W’s wind turbine will generate about $70,000 annually — an increase of nearly $20,000 over its most recent productivity revenues.

There is also good news on the economic front as coal plants will be shut down over the next year due to more stringent Environmental Protection Agency regulations. This will increase usage of natural gas and wind energy sources, he said. The average increase for Purchased Power Agreements is 2.5 percent in the future, therefore, A-W’s wind turbine would get approximately $1,260 in green tag sales.

There may also be some potential buyers interested in this wind turbine, said Prior, noting it depends on the total cost estimates for such a project. Potential buyers include community colleges and turbine remanufacturers.

By next month, Prior hopes to have “a lot more specific cost estimates and projections” for A-W’s wind turbine.

“We’re going to do our best to give you what we think are relatively conservative, relatively reasonable, solid estimates,” said Prior. “We can’t give you any guarantees on those things because most are outside of our control but we’ll make sure we give you the best kind of forecasting we can do.”

“You have a real challenge,” he added, noting his firm will be presenting monthly updates at each school board meeting.

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