Mother Nature has a mind of her own, and crews at the Silver Star I wind farm looking to tap into the power of wind realized she’d cooperate when she was ready.
After being put several months behind in the construction of the wind farm near Desdemona, Mother Nature finally gave in last Saturday allowing crews at the BP Alternative Energy facility to hang its first wind turbine blades.
Construction managers and the more than 150 employees at the site had anticipated the first rotor blades to be hoisted around 9 a.m. but windy conditions delayed the lift until just before noon, said Greg Warren, Silver Star’s facility manager.
The three-blade rotor component, made of fiberglass, steel and other composite materials, and measuring approximately 315 feet in diameter and weighing 147,000 pounds, was lifted 262 feet above the landscape using two cranes including a 300-ton crane, said Warren.
As of yesterday, crews were still working to repair some minor problems with Turbine No. 7 said Warren, who had hoped that a test run would be completed on Wednesday.
“We’ve been trying to do test runs and we tried late yesterday (Wednesday) evening but it didn’t happen,” said Warren, a native of Carbon who was relocated to the area to manage and oversee the day-to-day operations of the wind farm. “The wind has been blowing too hard to do the troubleshooting with it. It’s nothing major, just communication type stuff, loose wires, and we won’t know until we start looking at it.”
Efforts to put the first turbine into operation have been hampered by gusty winds which have prevented workers from laboring atop the towers. Warren said safety policies keep workers grounded when wind speeds top 18 meters per second, or 40 mph, and this week Mother Nature has been producing plenty of the renewable wind energy - unfortunately, at an inconvenient time.
Project managers hope that Turbine No. 7 will be producing electricity by Saturday - a long-awaited moment ever since construction began on the Silver Star I wind farm in September 2007, which was recently hampered due to damages sustained to a set of blades by a disgruntled resident of Eastland County.
“We should have power coming out of ‘Lucky No. 7’ this weekend,” said Warren. “We’re behind schedule but it would be a big milestone for the crew if we can get one running. If the winds are blowing anywhere from 10 to 12 meters per second (22-26 mph) or more, it will be producing at full capacity.”
“We haven’t hung anymore blades because the wind has been blowing,” Warren said Wednesday afternoon, adding that crews attempted to hoist the blades atop Turbine No. 2. “We’re ready but Mother Nature is holding us up again.”
The facility manager said hoisting the blades is a full day’s work and that crews are focusing on hanging one per day. Once Turbine No. 8 is in place crews will move to No. 1 in the coming days. The project is scheduled to be completed next month.
The local wind farm will include a total of 24 Liberty C96 model turbines made by Carpinteria, Calif-based Clipper Windpower, Inc. Those at Silver Star I are the largest land-based blades currently in production in North America, said Warren, and are fairly new to the commercial windpower market.
“Clipper is a new manufacturer and it will be a good turbine,” said Warren, adding that the company is touting the low-maintenance aspect of the new Liberty model, which first needs service at 700 hours of operation and every six months thereafter.
Each Liberty turbine has the capacity to produce 2.5 megawatts of electricity using four synchronous permanent magnet generators, each rated at 660 kilowatts at 1,133 rpm. Each turbine could produce enough electricity to power up to 5,000 homes, said Warren, with Silver Star I projected to provide enough electricity for 24,000 homes.
Gregg Black, construction manager with Clipper Windpower, calls the Liberty turbines “the world’s most technologically advanced.”
“The software and components allow them to operate on their own, it’s a very smart turbine,” said Black. “A remote center at our Iowa office can detect problems and troubleshoot the malfunction.”
Each turbine is fitted with an anemometer that can detect wind speeds and changes in wind direction, said Black. “The turbine will automatically rotate the unit and pitch the blades to a certain angle. If the wind is blowing at 5 mph it will determine the most efficient pitch to get the most out of that wind speed.”
Each Liberty turbine is also equipped with its own two-ton jib hoist allowing maintenance crews to easily replace components high atop the 262-foot-tall towers.
“We can change that generator out without calling out a big crane because there’s a small crane inside the housing,” said Black. “It makes maintenance a lot more cost effective to the customer. When you mobilize a crane it can be a half-million dollar expense.”
Silver Star I, a $100 million wind farm project owned 85 percent by BP Alternative Energy and 15 percent by Clipper Windpower, encompasses property owned by five landowners in both Eastland and Erath counties, and is situated on a small plateau north of FM 8 known to many in the area as School Hill.