Project up despite utility reluctance

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Wisconsin got its first utility scale wind turbines last month with the commissioning of two 600 kW Tacke machines from Germany. The machines were installed close to the town of Denmark by Huron Windpower of Canada, which manufactured the blades for the turbines and will also maintain them.

The turbines have been installed under the US Wind Turbine Verification Programme and are co-owned by the Electric Power Research Institute, the US Department of Energy and four Wisconsin utilities, including Wisconsin Power and Light and Wisconsin Electric. EPRI provided almost half the $2.1 million cost of the project.

It has been a long time coming, delayed first by the bankruptcy of Kenetech, then by Tacke's similar fate. Originally conceived in 1992 as a demonstration collaborative in Wisconsin's integrated resource plan, the first contract was awarded to Kenetech in 1993. As Kenetech ran into financial difficulties in 1996, the project was reopened to bidders, and Tacke Windtechnik came out victorious. Last year, however, Tacke ran into its own bankruptcy problems before being bought out by Enron. The Canadian branch of Tacke broke away, purchased by employees, and was renamed Huron Windpower.

Even more delays arose at the last minute, as blades shipped from Huron were delayed by ice storms that knocked out power in much of Canada. Hoisting the nacelle was stopped by cold winds and crane crews stood around waiting for the weather to break. The turbines were finally commissioned on February 6.

Although Wisconsin does not share the vast wind resources of the Great Plains states to the west, this part of the state has some promise, with average annual winds of 6.1 m/s at 33.5 metres. The winds are stronger here than elsewhere in the state party because of the effect of the Niagara Escarpment, a geological rise that parallels Lake Michigan.

The Tacke machines sit on 60 metre towers and are the tallest wind turbines in the US. They have been modified for cold weather, though not by using black blades to shed ice, as have other cold weather designs. "Part of the research is to see if we have problems," says project manager Jayme VanCampenhout of Wisconsin Public Service. "We don't anticipate any problems with icing."

The siting of the turbines is in keeping with the north European heritage of the area: the land they occupy is leased from local dairy farmers Sandra and Michael Zirbel, in much the same way as land is leased for thousands of wind turbines in Europe.

So far, community response to the Tacke units has been curious, but positive. Ironically, the same cannot be said for the project's co-developer and host, Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), to judge by comments made to the local press. "The problem is the winds are not strong enough as a resource to justify the installation," VanCampenhout told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. WPS has no plans to install more turbines, but will evaluate the success of this project before taking any further actions, he added. Justifying his negative comment, VanCampenhout says: "The proof is in the installation." In a reference mainly directed at the problems with turbine suppliers, he adds: "It was no slam dunk to put it in place."

The 1.2 MW project is expected to produce 3.26 million kWh a year, with peak output in the winter. The power has been included in the rate base of most of the state's utilities, although Madison Gas and Electric will be using the power for a pilot study of green pricing in the Madison area.

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