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.
“We really didn’t know what was causing the (part) to fail,” Olney said. “It was new but they have been sitting on a shelf for a long time ... and some of the components may have degraded.”
Between part replacements Olney found a firm in South Dakota -- Broadwind Services -- that could provide turbine service for $8,036.
“They found that it was well-maintained, in good shape overall and should last at least another six years,” Olney said.
Broadwind also offered to fix the original part for another $3,444. The repaired part was installed June 6 and the turbine now works fine.
Olney said his research found the same problem cropped up eight or nine years ago and TCL&P went through several parts then before locating one that worked.
Utility officials told board members they will ask the part supplier to refund their money.
“First we are going to ask, then we are going to insist on our money back,” said Tim Arends, TCL&P executive director.