A new Rockford venture recycling used wind turbines

February 9, 2011

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) (from left), U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) and Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) at the news conference for the Danish wind turbines at Freedom Field. (Photo provided)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The arrival of three used Danish wind turbines represents the latest renewable energy effort being implemented by Freedom Field, the nonprofit organization formed to facilitate the development of renewable energy solutions for the region.

A partnership between Freedom Field, Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) Outreach Program and a newly-formed local company, RockWind LLC, has been formed to upgrade and sell the units, which can supply about 400,000 kilowatt hours per year. The output is estimated to provide power to serve 50 homes.

The units are not intended to be part of wind farms. Units supplying commercial wind farms, such as that near Paw Paw, are nearly 400 feet tall, while the used turbines, at 150 feet, are less than half that size. The intended market includes acceptable sites serving schools, colleges, industrial parks and hospitals to help moderate anticipated increases in the price of electricity.

The units were taken out of service after half their useful life, as Europe has decided to replace 250-kilowatt units with 1.5-MW units. The change was initiated to maximize electrical output from the limited amount of land suitable for wind farms.

Dick Johnson, director of NIU’s Rock program, indicated they can rebuild the turbines to be better than when they were new. For example, metal ball bearings in the units can be slightly deformed by electric currents; replacing them with newly-designed ceramic ball bearings eliminates the problem.

If the program proves successful, funds recovered from the resale of the units will be used to fund the continuing operations of Freedom Field. Another potential outcome of the program is the establishment of a turbine testing program to assess the performance of rebuilt turbines. With success, the $200,000 investment by Winnebago County to purchase the turbines could prove helpful in rebuilding the local economy.

While some dismay was expressed about rebuilding used wind turbines, a successful project could lead to additional manufacturing in Rockford. For example, Newton, Iowa, former home of Maytag appliance manufacturing, successfully landed a Siemens wind turbine nacelle manufacturing plant in 2008. Feb. 2, the Tindall Corp. closed on 230 acres of property near Newton to set up a factory to manufacture concrete bases for turbines used in commercial wind farms.

Few people realize how intense the competition is to secure new manufacturing facilities. Greenville, Mich., was successful in a competition with 27 states to become the location of two PV manufacturing facilities serving Energy Conversion Devices. The plants, designed to manufacture a total of 60 MW, have provided far fewer jobs than projected as the firm’s sale of panels developed more slowly than anticipated

A former employee of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity explained to us that the limited success the state has had in luring renewable energy manufacturing firms to Illinois was because, in some cases, our economic incentives fail to match those of other states, and some states are more centrally located to serve the expanding renewable energy industry.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

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