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February 4, 2000
Paul Gipe

Midwest Wind Farm Trip Report and Observations


In late October I took a brief trip to Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota to visit some of the new wind projects. Here are some observations based on comparing the Midwest projects with those I've seen in California and in Europe.

Overall the new sites in the United States were developed with care and all the new machines looked like they were fresh out of the box.

Wyoming

SeaWest has done an impressive job on Foote Creek Rim. There wasn't a piece of trash, cable spool, or other debris on the site. They had a small storage area but it was small and relatively unobtrusive. The land is still grazed. SeaWest and the rancher have made a special effort to sensitize employees to the importance of "if you bring it in, you take it out". (For example, you don't see plastic bags flapping on the fence posts, or Styrofoam McDonald's containers blowing about.)

Platte River Power Authority still has work to do on their Medicine Bow site. One of the Vestas' V44s was down and BuRec's monstrous WTS4 is still looming over the work-a-day machines producing electricity. Not surprisingly, an old Nordtank 65 kW machine is still cranking away. There's a lot of debris on the site that wasn't removed when the U.S. government abandoned the WTS4 in the 1980s. Of course photographs of this "green power" project don't include the rusted, oil-smeared WTS4 with its broken blades.

Colorado

project just inside the Colorado border with Wyoming. In contrast to California projects, roads at Ponnequin are modest, mostly just farm tracks. Nearly all construction debris has been removed. There's just a few trailers and storage containers left near the substation. In an odd twist, each transformer is fenced. It's as though they were afraid the cows would knock over the transformers. No one else seems to be too concerned about this at the other projects I visited. In projects from Wyoming to Minnesota the transformers are unfenced. PSC's fences must be the result of some attorney in the legal department worried that a cow might sue them for damages. There is pile of junk smack dab in the middle of the site. But the junk belongs to the rancher and not to PSC or NEG-Micon.

Iowa

NEG-Micon turbines in the huge FPL project built by Foras near Clear Lake are visible from I-35, a major north-south route in the Midwest. Though the turbines were all operational, the roads modest, and the sites otherwise well done, the closed gates and threatening signs were off-putting. It reminded me of "gated communities" here in California where the wealthy hide in fear from the riff-raff. Sure takes the fun out of watching wind turbines. Not like in much of Europe, where you can walk right up and kiss the things if you want.

The FPL site wasn't like Zond's site further west near Storm Lake, Iowa. Zond's project, in contrast, was open to wondering wind wackos, and errant members of the public. There were no glaringly obvious gates, no threatening signs. Sure, Zond's lattice towers are a poor choice for Iowa's winters, ask any tech, but overall the project was well done. The lattice tower itself has a pleasing shape when seen individually, but en masse it lends an industrial atmosphere to the rural Iowa landscape. Unfortunately, the tower bases were cluttered with transformers, cables, control panels, and some other mysterious electrical boxes. But Storm Lake is an enormous improvement over Zond's California projects.

Though it's been months since construction was completed, Zond has failed to remove debris from one of its staging areas in Iowa. Blades, broken blades, and cable spools were lying about and easily accessible from the road.

Minnesota

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Whoever owns the Kenetech site still has their work cut out for them. The KVS 33s were all running, a testament to patience, hard work, good techs, and a deep pocketbook, but most were oil splattered with junk and construction debris littering the site. The chintzy mounts for the transformers and control panels were in various states of finding a natural state of repose other than vertical.

Now the good news. Minnesota's strict environmental standards have paid dividends with the new projects. Minnesotans can be proud in having the best looking massed arrays of wind turbines in the USA--easily beats any California project.

The clean lines of Zond's nacelles and their particularly well designed tubular tower put Vestas' V47s in a bad light. Engineers at Vestas responsible for the design of their tall tower should be strapped to a nacelle in a Minnesota blizzard. The Vestas tower shape hearkens back to the old Danish "rocket" tower of the early 1980s. I doubt Vestas would use it in Denmark. It must have been cheap--certainly looks cheap.

The door, steps, and railing to Zond's tubular towers were a nice touch that's probably appreciated by their techs. The steps and railings are also not found on Vestas' towers.

Access roads in Minnesota are relatively modest and not gated. There were discreet row identification markings, and clean stenciling of the tower numbers. This is in contrast to some of the spray painted numbers on turbines in California that look like they were done by a graffiti artist, and a bad one at that.

NEG-Micon's towers were equally as attractive as Zond's, though from the side the NEG-Micon nacelle isn't as clean and well integrated as the Zond nacelle.

Of all the Minnesota projects I saw, Dan Juhl's Woodstock site looked the most visually interesting and least disturbed.

All the new turbines were clean, there were few signs of oil spills from broken gearboxes. There was dabs of heavy oil or grease on some of the Zond towers, but overall everything looked freshly scrubbed.

One mark against the Minnesota projects were the glaring logos on some of the turbines. Zond's logo was subtle and easily the least obtrusive. Another mark against the projects are those damn flashing lights. When Minnesota revisits its wind plant siting requirements it will have to add some provisions prohibiting or limiting logos, and aviation obstruction lighting.

Impression: If we're going to have massive wind farms in the USA on the California model, then let's do them the way they did them in Minnesota (excluding the ill-fated Kenetech project of course). They are huge.

There's no escaping that fact, but all in all, well done.


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