Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 15, 2013

Predictions of turbine's demise premature

TRAVERSE CITY — The nation’s first wind turbine run by a public utility can once again handle a good blow after a 10-month odyssey of failures and almost $50,000 in fixes.

Traverse City Light and Power’s wind turbine that spun its blades near M-72 in Elmwood Township since 1996 broke down in August 2012. Repeated repair efforts failed, and utility officials expressed concern it might have reached the end of its useful life.

But it appears predictions of the turbine’s demise are premature, and stated the turbine should operate for at least another six years.

“It’s an iconic thing for Traverse City and people want us to keep it up there,” said utility board member and city Commissioner Jim Carruthers.

The turbine stands 160 feet high and has a blade diameter of 144 feet. It’s less than half as tall as today’s modern turbines designed to catch Michigan’s best winds. Its generator is considered inefficient by today’s standards, but at its inception was the largest operating wind turbine in the United States.

The turbine has run at half-capacity since 2012, but is back running full bore and is capable of producing about 600,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, or enough power for about 110 homes. But utility board members expressed concerns about the repair process and wants a refund from a company that scoured the globe for what turned out to be defective replacement parts.

It took four months after the initial breakdown to find and obtain a part from Europe at a cost of almost $38,000. Workers installed the new part on Jan. 4, but it failed two days later.

That part was under warranty so the supplier eventually replaced it after another lengthy search, reported Tom Olney, TCL&P operations manager. The part was installed April 16. It lasted three days.

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