By Joe Zwers, Freelance Writer
A lot of people talk about "sustainability" but there seems to be little agreement on exactly what that term means. Using renewable power sources, such as wind, is a part of sustainability. But the word sustain means to "extend in duration" from the Latin word for "endure." For a wind farm to be sustainable, then, it must have the ability to endure. This means reliable equipment built for long-term operation as well as a solid operations and maintenance program to extend equipment life.
"This site is one of the top performers in the fleet, with 95 percent to 98 percent availability," said Lyle Mattson, renewables supervisor for Minnesota Power about the Taconite Ridge wind farm. "It has to do with the personnel and the relationships, building trust and honesty with each other and realizing we are all after the same thing, which is to produce power and produce good numbers."
But part of sustainability is ensuring that there is a steady supply of trained personnel to operate and maintain the equipment. The power industry in general is facing a retirement crisis. To build its future personnel pool, Minnesota Power has partnered with Wind Energy Program at the Mesabi Range Technical and Community College (mesabi.windenergy.project.mnscu.edu) and Clipper Windpower in establishing a training program for wind generation.
"The program is designed to place technicians in the wind industry," said Dan Janisch Program Director for the Wind Energy Program. "It is primarily focused on operations and maintenance, but we do cover other areas such as manufacturing and construction so they have a breadth of knowledge."
Land of 10,000 Blades
The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal for obtaining 20 percent of the nation's electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030. Minnesota is running well ahead of that. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Minnesota ranked seventh in the country in total installed capacity as of Sept. 30, 2010 with 1,717.91 MW. Another 676.9 MW was under construction, including two projects that are over 200 MW each, which will bring the total to nearly 2,400 MW. In addition to building in the state, Minnesota Power has started construction on the Bison 1 Wind project in North Dakota.
"We plan on expanding that project due to the premiere wind resources out there," said Mattson. "We already have the transmission line in place to bring that power back to our customers in Minnesota."
|Mesabi Range Technical and Community College students visited the Taconite Ridge wind farm as part of their training.|
One of Minnesota Power's recent projects was the 25 MW Taconite Ridge wind farm, one of two Minnesota sites to install Clipper turbines in 2008.The location chosen for the turbines sits on top of the Laurentian Divide, a ridge that runs from the Great Continental Divide in Glacier National Park to the Labrador Sea in Eastern Canada and divides the North American watershed. Everything north of the Laurentian Divide flows into the Arctic Ocean. Everything south of the divide empties into the Gulf of Mexico or flows east to the Atlantic through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Minnesota Power is both developer and owner of the Taconite Ridge wind farm. Minnesota Power selected 10 2.5 MW Clipper Windpower Liberty turbines to add 25 MW of capacity to the grid.
The $50 million project took about 50,000 man hours to complete, including bringing in 170 truckloads of turbine components, pouring 3,700 yards of concrete and burying 84,000 feet of power cable. The turbines were brought on line one at a time in June and July 2008 and the site officially going commercial on August 1. Minnesota Power initially contracted with Clipper for the first two years of operations and maintenance, later extending the contract to five years.
The final piece of sustainability lies in ensuring that personnel are available for long-term operations. The power industry as a whole is suffering a retirement crisis and it is essential to attract and train a new generation of engineers and technicians. To help ensure a steady supply of new wind industry workers, Clipper and Minnesota Power are working closely with the Mesabi Range Wind Energy Program. Jay Gasner, Clipper's site superintendent, sits on the program's advisory committee and, to help the program get off the ground, Clipper donated $300,000 worth of equipment, including a gearbox that students can get experience working on. Several Clipper employees have also given lectures to the classes.
"Clipper has been an integral part of the program, providing us with a lot of material, a lot of equipment and a lot encouragement for these students," said Janisch. "
Janisch has been with the program for about a year, but has experience building wind farms. He and his wife, Lisa, have worked on half a dozen wind farms around North America, Dan as a project manager, Lisa a superintendent. The two came to Minnesota for the Taconite Ridge project.
"My wife had been working with the college as a consultant for well over a year before I made the step over here," he said. "I knew there was a job for an instructor for the new wind program and I was looking forward to a new challenge."
Each year, the college starts a cohort of 25 students for the two-year, 72 credit program with the first graduates scheduled to graduate in the Spring 2011. The program covers coursework and hands-on training in the shop and in the field.
"We do a lot of training on safety in and around the wind industry environment, as well as a lot of electrical and mechanical and troubleshooting training," said Janisch
The program doesn't limit itself to the classroom. The goal is to have the students ready to work in the industry upon graduation and includes a mandatory12-week summer internship.
"Before they graduate, they have to have industry experience," said Janisch. "It is a good learning tool for them and it proves to employers that when they do graduate that they already have what it takes."
Clipper and Minnesota Power have hosted interns, which can be in other parts of the power industry. One student interned at a Minnesota Power coal plant, and the plant wants to hire him as soon as he graduates.
The hands-on experience is also part of the normal school year. In the classrooms, students get to work on the components Clipper provided. The school also purchased a used V27 turbine for the students to refurbish and put into operation on campus, streaming the instrument data on the web for sharing with other colleges.
The highlight, however, is the trip each semester to the Taconite Ridge site, where students can speak with the crew and climb the towers.