Weather biggest challenge to maintenance
By Jim Nowlan
“There are between 700 and 800 wind turbines between Bloomington and the Quad Cities,” according to Adam Hartman, a wind site manager for BHE Renewables (Berkshire Hathaway Energy), “and a lot more farms are in the planning stages by several other developers for the area.”
At night on Route 78 west of Toulon, a driver can see the blinking red lights atop wind towers both to the east (Camp Grove Wind Farm) and to the west (the wind farms in Henry County). The Camp Grove Wind Farm operates 40 turbines in Stark and 60 in neighboring Marshall County.
Hartman is at the moment overseeing construction of a 106-turbine farm in Bureau County near Walnut, and there are rumblings of a possible new wind farm in north Stark County, south Neponset.
The News visited this past week with Hartman, the site manager for the Bishop Hill II Wind Farm, with offices in Galva, to find out what it takes to keep the rotors turning atop each tower.
Each of the 50 towers that Hartman oversees is 100 meters (328 feet) high and each rotor (three blades and hub) are 100 meters across. This means at the highest point, a tower and its rotor reach 150 meters, or almost 500 feet above ground.
The nacelle (housing or pod) at the top of each wind tower is the size of a school bus. The nacelle houses a generator and gearbox. Above the nacelle is an anemometer, a sensor for wind speed and direction. Based on readings from the sensor, the nacelle and rotor turn to capture the wind.
The rotors begin turning when wind is just under 7 miles per hour and they automatically shut off at wind speeds in excess of roughly 60 mph. The blades feather (change their angle of pitch) to maximize wind advantage.
All this is guided by a software package, and the Bishop Hill II wind turbine activity is monitored remotely from centers located in New York and Des Moines, Iowa.
The General Electric turbines at Bishop Hill II each generate 1.62 megawatts of energy at peak capacity. Thus, with turbines in the Midwest generally running about 50 percent of peak, each turbine generates enough electricity to power about 600 homes on a continuing basis.
While wind farm turbines can vary in size and capacity from site to site, The News extrapolates that the 800 turbines in our region alone can power close to half a million homes.
320 steps from ground to nacelle
Adam works with a crew of five men, who see to it the turbines are generating electricity in a safe and efficient manner around the clock, or at least when the wind is sufficient.
Inside each tower is a really long, almost straight up “extension ladder” of 320 one-foot steps to the nacelle! There is a “climb assist” that relieves about 70 pounds of each man’s total weight and load of tool and arts as he climbs the tower.
“Weather is the biggest challenge,” says Jerod Wigant, of Galva, one of the maintenance crew.
How hot is it climbing on a hot day, The News asks?
“Oh, about as hot as popping the hood on your car after you drive it from Galva to Kewanee on a blistering hot day,” says Dan Moore, of Galva, another of the crew.
Each turbine receives two services a year, by a three or four-man team, each lasting a couple of days. The team looks for parts failures and makes adjustments, as necessary, to the equipment in the nacelle.
The servicing plus trouble-shooting at the towers, as identified by the remote monitors, means that crew members are up tower much of the time.
“We are industrial athletes,” jokes crew member Peter Odren, of Galva. It is obvious they have to stay in good physical condition.
The News asked Hartman why there always seems to be at least one rotor in a visible group to be still while the others are turning?
“The turbine could be off-line, in maintenance or repair,” Adam responds, “the footprint within a wind energy facility could have turbines at varying elevations which places some turbines higher than others causing some turbines to spin sooner than others..”
Crew sleeps “with one eye open”
Hartman praised the maintenance crew. “A turbine could fault at 2 a.m. or need attention on a weekend. These guys are on duty 24/7, sleeping with one eye open, and they do a great job.”
Each crew member takes part in a one-month training course in New York before starting work and undergoes “constant training” at work, as one of the crew observed.
What skills come in handy for maintenance workers, The News asked?
“Self-directed motivated individuals,” says Hartman. “There is no one looking over their shoulders. They have to think on their feet.”
“I like to fix things,” says Nate Lyday, of Annawan, and a couple others nodded when asked if they liked to work on car engines.
Adam Hartman building things since 13
“From age 13 to my 20s, I worked for a general contractor,” says Adam Hartman, who studied construction management at Illinois State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree.
Adam conveys the quiet confidence that he could supervise the building of a new Sears Tower without breaking a sweat.
He has been construction manager at five wind sites in Illinois and has been the site manager at Bishop Hill II for six years.
Not long out of college, Adam applied for a job as an “office engineer,” never thinking it was for a wind energy contractor.
That was the start of what has become a real good career for Adam in an expanding industry.
Adam and his wife and daughter live in Washington, Illinois.