Aug. 11–17 designated as American Wind Power Week.
OSKALOOSA — Iowa is one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to wind power.
On Monday, Oskaloosa Mayor David Krutzfeldt signed a proclamation designating Aug. 11–17 as American Wind Week.
According to the proclamation, Iowa is second in the nation when it comes to wind capacity, with almost 9,000 megawatts installed, producing enough electricity to power nearly 2.1 million homes. Iowa also ranks second in the country with nearly 34 percent of all in-state electricity production.
Current and future projects are estimated to bring electrical power generated by wind to over 40 percent by 2020.
Due to the wind power industry, according to the proclamation, there have been millions of dollars in state and local tax payments as well as billions of dollars in private investments. The industry supports nearly 10,000 jobs across Iowa.
David Winchester, site manager of Vestas Wind Farms in New Sharon, Montezuma and Brooklyn, said it’s not just the guy putting the propellers on the turbine.
“It’s the guy that’s doing the maintenance. It’s the guy that’s doing the budgeting. It’s me supervising. It’s the crane companies we’re hiring and bringing in intermittently. It’s the people that are making those parts,” he said. “All the way through the value chain, you have people at every level.”
Winchester said Vestas makes the majority of its turbines in America – specifically Colorado.
Wind power has had a lot of growth over the past decade, Winchester said.
“Hugely. Incredibly. I don’t have the exact numbers off the top of my head, but a lot of wind has grown,” he said. “When I started in 2008, the biggest turbine on my site was a 660 kilowatt machine. Today, the machines are 2 megawatts, so that’s a 4-fold increase. I’ll bet the install base worldwide is 10-fold. I wouldn’t swear to that, but I would say somewhere in that range.”
The reason for the growth, Winchester said, is a combination of incentives and usability.
“Wind doesn’t burn anything, so people certainly have a demand for that,” he said. “But also, my previous off-taker, the utility that takes the power, was not MidAmerican, it was a company in Colorado.”
Winchester said that company built two wind farms for the Colorado Renewable Portfolio Law. Following a request for proposal of different projects including coal, natural gas, wind farms and a solar farm, a third wind farm was built as it was shown to be the best use of their capital.
“The most profitable of all of them, basically, for the rate payers. So the rate payers get the most power for the least dollars,” he said. “So wind is becoming incredibly useful like that. As the rotor diameter increases, they can produce more power. And as that happens, the cost of building the tower, erecting it, paying for the electronics is cheaper and cheaper by comparison because you’re making more watts per dollar of everything else.”
Krutzfeldt asked whether the transportation of turbine blades was a logistics issue for communities.
Winchester said there is absolutely a strict permitting process involved.
“When we are planning some blade work, we need to make sure that the truck that’s delivering the blades is using a special, fancy trailer,” he said. “The trailer can turn both wheel sets independently, you can control the rear independently from the front so it can get through county roads and the string roads and stuff.”
The cranes that hoist the turbine blades have to be brought with 10–20 truck loads, depending on the type of crane.
“And then you assemble it on site because it’s so heavy and so big,” he said. “The crane we’re using this weekend is a $6 million machine just by itself. And we’re paying thousands of dollars every day for it ad thousands of dollars more for the people that are operating it to help us get this crane in the air and put the blade on it.”
The turbines all operate independently, Winchester said.
“They all have a little computer up-tower and down-tower. They’re very smart. They talk to each other,” he said. “They have lots of little sensors to say ‘hey this might be a problem, that might be a problem. Hey, my oil’s cold all of a sudden and maybe a heater broke, maybe a sensor broke, or hey my oil level is low, maybe the sensor is bad; come check me out.’ So when you see 50 turbines and 49 of them are cranking and one of them is sitting there, it’s waiting for someone to come take a look at it.”
That’s not to say they’re broken, Winchester said, it could be something that needs a quick check.
“It could be something very small,” he said. “But someone has to check it out. The turbine says ‘hey, come fix me, please.'”
The red lights flashing on the turbines are required, Winchester said, by the FAA.
“When the pilot is flying at night, he has to have sort of an impression fo the shape of where not to go. If it’s just blinking, it doesn’t look like anything. But when it’s a shape, it’s like ‘stay away from that area,'” he said. “So you have to have them on every other turbine on the outside and then a certain number based on rules on the inside. It boils down to almost half of the turbines in a nutshell.”