Long lives

Published 12:05 am Thursday, April 5, 2012

ead technician out of the LeRoy office for Vestas, Eric Anderson talks about maintenance for the wind towers while standing on top of one just south of Grand Meadow.

Turbines’ production likely to outlast 20 to 30 year life spans

This story originally appeared in Progress 2012. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald.

Just how many years wind turbines dot the landscape in Mower County may not be determined by an expiration date.

The blade of a windtower seems to stretch out over the fields and more wind turbines south and west of Grand Meadow.

Typical turbines have a life span of 20 to 30 years, and the first wind towers in Mower County are about 10 years old.

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But that’s not to say the turbines are nearing mid-life and headed toward dismantling. Many expect the turbines to have many more years of life, as new technologies maximize turbines’ production.

Vestas Americas —- the company that maintains and built the turbines at the Prairie Star Wind Farm near LeRoy — has much older ones across the country still running strong.

“Many Vestas turbines have actually exceeded their expected 20-year lifetimes, including those installed in the early 1980s that are still producing energy today,” Andrew Longeteig, a communications specialist with Vestas, wrote in an email.

Steve Vietor, an instructor with Riverland Community College’s wind technician program, said there’s a bright future for wind energy in Mower County.

“We’ve got a lot of wind turbines in the area, but what’s most exciting is what’s still to come,” he said.

Technicians’ jobs will shift from maintenance and trouble shooting to retrofitting and rebuilding turbines and maximizing production.

Vietor said it’s likely the turbines will be altered for land owners to maximize output. The typical local turbines are about 1.5-megawatt turbines, and on good days, Vietor said, they can produce 1.67 megawatts.

However, with new technologies — like a laser that tracks wind speed and direction miles away so turbines can turn into the wind and start producing earlier — those numbers could get a boost.

Although land owners have a say on when the turbines’ contracts are up, the real decision lies with the companies that own the energy. According to Longeteig, they can retrofit, rebuild or dismantle turbines.

If turbines are dismantled, about 80 percent of the typical 1.65 megawatt turbine — which is outage for the ones at Prairie Star — can be recycled, including all of the iron and steel.

After the turbines’ estimated 30-year life spans, they can be dismantled or rebuilt, according to Michelle Berdusis, project manager for Vestas at Prairie Star.

“The technology has changed too much in the way that we build towers that structurally I think they would last a lot longer than that,” she said.