After producing no power in March, one of Willmar's two wind turbines produced power in April after repairs
— After producing no power in March due to breaker failures, at least one of
Willmar Municipal Utilities
' two wind turbines was available 64.5% of the time in April, producing 326,940 kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to Facilities and Maintenance Supervisor Kevin Marti.
Mitchell Knudson of Phase Shift Power worked on the breakers and successfully got wind turbines three and four running, but the breaker in wind turbine three failed within a few days, Marti told the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission at its meeting May 8. The turbines are located near Willmar Senior High School.
"But, we were happy with the output we did get. As you see on the bar graph, if we want to be optimistic, I would say that we are climbing," Marti said. "The year to date, with April's numbers, we are sitting at 652,994 kilowatt-hours. So, far less than normal, but we do our best at this point until we get those parts in."
He informed the commission that Knudson was coming back May 9 to attempt to again repair the breaker in wind turbine three. According to an email response on Monday, May 15, from General Manager John Harren, Knudson was able to repair the breaker and get wind turbine three up and running again.
As has been reported previously, Willmar Municipal Utilities had difficulties finding new breakers for the failing breakers in the wind turbines.
A company that could manufacture new breakers was finally located in Germany, and Willmar Municipal Utilities is awaiting their arrival, which was expected in early March.
However, the current estimated time of arrival for the new breakers is June 12.
"We believe the breakers are stuck in customs somewhere," Marti said.
Commissioner Shawn Mueske asked if Knudson was offering any discount for having to return and again repair wind turbine three, considering it failed within a few days.
Marti explained that the bill for the repairs to the wind turbines was less than originally quoted the first time Knudson came out.
"He's ridiculously smart," Marti said. "We're very confident that he's taking good care of us. I think in a way ... you can liken it to like a challenge for him: He's enjoying it as much as we are. I don't think he's beating us up by any means."
It is hoped that the repairs made will keep the turbines running beyond when the new breakers arrive, and the new breakers can then be stored for backup until the repaired breakers fail permanently, according to Marti.
Willmar Municipal Utilities electrical engineer Jeron Smith explained that Knudson was upfront about maybe not being able to repair the breakers.
"It's incredibly challenging to find anybody to work on this equipment. He said he would do it, and he said if he couldn't get either of them working, he'd do it for free," Smith said. "He got both of them working, so we were pleased with that and we think it's a good choice to have him come back."
He also told the commission that having the wind turbines running and producing energy that does not have to be purchased pays for itself "pretty quickly" when less costly repairs are needed.
Harren said the question about continuing to spend time and money on the wind turbines was addressed at the last monthly meeting of Willmar Municipal Utilities' policy makers.
He explained that there is a cost-benefit and return-on-investment analysis that takes place to make sure it makes sense to repair or replace anything that is broken or failing on the wind turbines.
"The return-on-investment is not there if we are talking about a two, three, four hundred thousand-dollar repair or even higher, you wouldn't do that — it wouldn't make sense, good sense, to do that," Marti added. "Those are the kind of things we watch for."
For instance, there was a cracked blade bearing discovered a few years ago that still exists and is closely monitored to see if it is getting worse, according to Marti.
"That may get worse tomorrow, for all we know, and that's one of those repairs that's hundreds of thousands of dollars and would be the death of that particular turbine," he said.
Commissioner Carol Laumer asked if there is capital being set aside if Willmar Municipal Utilities wants to keep using wind energy when the turbines do fail.
"The option would be to repower the units, and we have reached out to a couple of different vendors. That's getting a little tougher to do," Marti said.
He explained that the current turbines are rated for two megawatts per unit and many new turbines are running more than two megawatts in each unit, so they would not be able to be used in the current wind turbines.
"That's one of the things that we are running into. The other, once again, is the cost to do so," Marti continued. "To shoot a warning shot across your bow, if these turbines do go down someday, it's going to cost a significant amount of money to take them down and restore that land to how we found it."
Harren said that the wind turbines have cost a little more than 16 cents per kilowatt-hour to produce electricity from the time they were switched on to today, which is fairly expensive.
Commissioner Bruce DeBlieck pointed out that the longer Willmar Municipal Utilities can keep the wind turbines running, the lower the kilowatt-hour cost of power will be over the long term.
"That's why it's advantageous to keep them going as long as we can, within reason," Marti added.