Head of turbine manufacturer meets with Willmar Utilities officials
WILLMAR -- Wind turbine manufacturer DeWind Co. is learning from the challenges encountered by Willmar Municipal Utilities and the two turbines the utility bought from the Irvine, Calif., company, according to a DeWind official.
DeWind Chief Executive Officer Robert C. Rugh responded to questions posed Thursday morning from utility officials and two members of the Municipal Utilities Commission. They asked about outages that have on a number of occasions stopped the turbines, which went into service on Sept. 6, 2009.
Utility officials have said they are satisfied overall with the turbines but have had concerns with outages caused by some operational problems, including lack of a cold weather package to heat the turbines during cold weather and the dislodging of a computer in the hub that stopped one turbine from turning in early July.
DeWind corrected the problems under warranty. Rugh and others at the meeting pointed out that the contract between the utility and DeWind provides "liquidated damages,'' which are payments that DeWind will make to cover the revenue lost when the turbines aren't turning.
DeWind was established 15 years ago in Germany and has 500 turbines operating in Europe and 300 in China, but only a few in the United States, including two in Willmar. DeWind was bought in September 2009 by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering of South Korea.
Rugh said the financial support of Daewoo, the world's second largest shipbuilder, and its engineering and construction background, will enable DeWind to expand in the U.S. Rugh said DeWind will be commissioning a wind farm of 10 turbines in the Texas panhandle this year.
Rugh said weather conditions in the United States differ from those in Europe. He said the wind along Europe's North Sea, where many turbines are located, is not as aggressive as it is in the U.S. Also, temperatures are more extreme in the U.S. compared with Europe.
Rugh said DeWind had issues on the design of the cold weather package. A new cold weather package was installed.
"We had to go back to the drawing board,'' Rugh said. "We learned a hard lesson on that.''
Utility Staff Electrical Engineer Wes Hompe said the new package has not yet been tested. Rugh said if problems occur, adjustments can be made. "What is installed is more than adequate,'' he said.
Rugh said most of the down time resulted from diagnosing problems and waiting for parts. Rugh said DeWind is building up its parts supply and will try to get parts from local supplies.
"If we have the parts and crew, we can mitigate the delays,'' said Rugh. "We are educating the parent company about the needs of DeWind.''
Rugh was accompanied by Alden Zeitz, manager, and Dewey Higgins, operations technician, both in Minnesota. They have conducted warranty repairs on Willmar's turbines and are part of the service staff that DeWind plans to expand, according to Rugh.
Also attending the meeting were commissioners Jerry Gesch and Gary Myhre and former commissioner Bob Bonawitz. Gesch said many people see the turbines and he said commissioners and utility employees receive calls from the public when the turbines are not turning.
When the turbines are as highly visible as they are in Willmar, Rugh said, the public wants the machines to work well.
Bruce Gomm, utility general manager, said he was pleased with the meeting.
"To have the company president come out and show the interest that he has in our utility and our project is very reassuring,'' Gomm said. "He also provided a lot of information about how they are addressing some of the challenges that they face as a company during our project and I feel very optimistic that things are going to continue to improve and be better and better.''