Monday, February 8, 2010
When Windmills Don’t Spin, People Expect Some Answers
Times Topics: Wind PowerTurbines, more than 100 feet tall, were installed last year in 11 Minnesota cities to provide power, and also to serve as educational symbols in a state that has mandated that a quarter of its electricity come from renewable resources by 2025.
One problem, though: The windmills, supposed to go online this winter, mostly just sat still, people in cities like North St. Paul and Chaska said, rarely if ever budging. Residents took note. Schoolchildren asked questions. Complaints accumulated. “If people see a water tower, they expect it to stand still,” said Wally Wysopal, the city manager of North St. Paul. “If there’s a turbine, they want it to turn.”
No one knows for sure why these turbines do not. Officials believe there may be several reasons, but weather is the focus of much speculation. It is not as though turbines cannot function in cold places; thousands of them work perfectly well throughout Minnesota and the Midwest, the American Wind Energy Association is quick to note. But the 12 turbines in question, each 20 years old, spent their earlier years twirling in California.
“If you were to move a car from California to Minnesota, say, you would need to change the fluids,” said Derick O. Dahlen, president of Avant Energy, which manages the windmills for the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency.
Mr. Dahlen said workers were busy testing the turbines and, among other things, expected to add warming elements to gear boxes, oil and computers. In a month, he predicted, the turbines will be spinning smoothly. A possible setback: Mark Tresidder, another Avant official, said the state’s latest forecast included talk of sinking temperatures, an ice storm, maybe snow. “Given Minnesota weather,” Mr. Tresidder said, “there may be days when people can’t work out there.”