WILLMAR -- Four Willmar Municipal Utilities power plant technicians have begun training in the operation and maintenance of the utilities' two new wind turbines.
"Since we own it and operate it, we should also know how to work on them,'' said Wes Hompe, staff electrical engineer for the utilities, who also participated in the training. "We're working towards that goal, but we understand that these machines are new and different.''
Willmar's two DeWind turbines were engineered in Germany, built in Round Rock, Texas, and were erected on land located just north of Willmar High School.
The machines were dedicated in early September and will provide enough power to supply about 3 percent of Willmar's energy needs.
The initial training session Nov. 16-20 was led by two DeWind technicians who set up a training facility at the utility offices, complete with a computer for each trainee and software and access codes to simulate turbine operations.
"We actually had the engineers who signed the prints in our offices,'' said Hompe. "These are the guys who know everything about these units. They could fix anything on it including all the incredibly complex programming. Every single automated action that happens in this wind turbine has a program behind it.''
Hompe said each turbine is an incredibly complex technical device.
"I used to say it had a hundred decisions to make before it said go. I was wrong by a factor of 10. It has a thousand decisions to make before it can say go,'' Hompe said. "These people taught us the very basics of how to go in there and do very basic things. It provided a very good basis for further training.''
The training was the first of many sessions that will be held for Willmar technicians between now and the end of the two-year warranty period. The warranty period will begin when Willmar makes the 5 percent final payment on the turbines.
All warranty repairs and maintenance during the two-year period will be done by Electrical Maintenance Service of Gary S.D. EMS is under contract with DeWind and works on 90 percent of all wind turbines in Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa.
The turbines have a maintenance schedule, just like the maintenance schedule for a new car. The first scheduled maintenance took place a few weeks ago during the 500-hour check.
"Every six months there's a scheduled maintenance, essentially checking everything over from top to bottom as well as changing the oil filters and replacing any wear parts that are scheduled,'' said Hompe. "That's the maintenance portion of it.''
Hompe said Willmar technicians will be working with EMS every time the company is in Willmar "so we can get better at what we know and maybe learn something new through them.''
After the two-year warranty period expires, Willmar officials will decide whether they should extend the warranty at additional cost for three years or have local technicians take over. The decision will be made within the next year or so, said Hompe.
"What that does is it gives us a chance to look at the experience of how these things are operating and whether it makes sense for us to do it ourselves or pay for the cost of any additional work,'' he said.
Hompe praised the trainees and said their turbine work is a logical extension of power plant generation.
"It's a new and very different arena for them. Their eyes are wide open and they're trying their best to do this and it's working out pretty good.''
Hompe also said the trainers were thorough, provided excellent information and reinforced that information in three days of classroom work and two days at the turbines.
"They made sure before they walked out that we knew what we were supposed to know,'' he said.