United States

United States

Radical design goes commercial

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A small Washington engineering firm, The Wind Turbine Company (WTC), of Bellevue, last month started operation of its two-bladed downwind turbine design 32 kilometres from Tehachapi in Los Angeles County. This may be just a warm up for what WTC believes could be the turbine's first commercial application, a 15 MW project with the Klickitat Public Utility District in southern Washington. The company has developed the turbine as a lighter and more flexible type than conventional machines.

The installation of the 500 kW unit, on property owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), follows a year and a half of testing of the company's 250 kW turbine at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado). The prototype is largely funded by NREL, with a substantial contribution by LADWP and a small investment by WTC.

The company's Larry Miles says WTC is aiming to introduce a 750 kW model using the same design by mid-2003, a machine he believes will produce electricity cheaply enough to compete with other energy resources without needing a federal Production Tax Credit (PTC). The concept of an ultra lightweight and flexible wind turbine has been a goal of wind industry pioneers for nearly two decades, though no previous design has been proved commercially successful in the long term.

The generator, gearbox and structural components of the WTC 500 kW prototype are all sized to operate at 750 kW. All the machine needs is new rotors, which WTC engineers are now designing. Miles expects the weight of the 750 kW turbine, relative to the swept area of the rotor, to be 60% of the weight of a Vestas 660 kW turbine. The result is a 20% to 25% initial capital cost advantage over the Vestas turbine, which he says is one of the best buys around.

WTC is proposing the Klickitat PUD use 30 of its 500 kW turbines at the utility's Roosevelt landfill gas site. It has already has received a conditional use permit from the county. Miles believes the project can be completed by the end of this year, although that needs the PTC within the next couple of months so financing can be settled.

Developing the Klickitat project appears to be an interim step for WTC to get some if its turbines into commercial production on the way to becoming a turbine manufacturer and a developer. This year it may consider building an assembly plant, probably in Klickitat County, an area near many of the Northwest's upcoming wind projects. "We see a big opportunity in that area beyond just this project," says Miles.

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