Traverse City Record-Eagle


December 11, 2013

Iconic TCL&P windmill over Traverse City will come down


“If they do all those things, this will be a moment in a long journey, but not a step backwards,” Voss said.

Steven Smiley, of Smiley Energy Services, helped install the turbine and opposes its deconstruction. He said the costs of repairs would make it the cheapest power Traverse City could ever find but he said utility staff don’t want to go that route.

“It’s been kind of an ongoing battle there ... because people from Light & Power have been lukewarm toward the windmill,” Smiley said. “It’s been neglected.”

The board considered Smiley’s statements, but he didn’t support his financial claims with facts, McGuire said.

Tim Arends, the utility’s executive director, said breakdowns that kept the turbine operating at half-capacity, plus repair costs, caused the utility to lose money over the last four years. Repairs are complicated because parts come from Europe and there are few qualified repair technicians.

“It’s only (17) years old, but it is the dinosaur of wind turbines,” Arends said.

The turbine broke down in August 2012, and repeated repair efforts failed. Utility officials finally found a company to repair it and announced in June it was running full bore and should be good for another six years.

The same part failed again less than two weeks later. The repair company fixed it for $800. Utility staff installed the part on Sept. 6, but discovered one of two key motors that turn the turbine had failed. They replaced it with a motor that ran too fast and burned out the other motor. They purchased two motors, but those were the wrong voltage. In the process of hauling the motors up and down from the tower, the hoist broke.

And the repaired part failed again.

“They just make stupid errors,” Smiley alleged of utility officials. “They have a great service staff for running the utility and keeping the lines up, but nobody who really cares or knows about this windmill.”

The board also rejected Smiley's request to reconsider his recommendation to retrofit the turbine with new generators at a cost of about $250,000.

“The board feels it is better to pursue new renewable opportunities rather than pursue something that is outdated,” Arends said.

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