Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wind Farm Tour

Yesterday, I got to experience an all-day field trip to see a wind farm being constructed up in Reese, Michigan. The wind turbines are being developed by NextEra Energy Resources, a Florida-based company with a diverse energy-production portfolio (i.e. wind, solar, hydroelectric, fossil fuels, and nuclear).  This wind farm is close to the end of its construction phase, having started around July with an anticipated completion before the end of the year.

After the four-hour drive to Reese, we started off with lunch and a presentation about wind farms and the construction process. We were then given hard hats, safety glasses, and a vest, then headed off to see a couple of turbines in the early stages of construction.

View from the bus.  I think this might actually
be the one that we visited at the end of the tour.

 This first turbine consisted of the bottom half of the tower, with the rest of the parts scattered around nearby.  It gave us the opportunity to see exactly how large these parts are.  For reference, these wind turbines are of the 100 meter variety (diameter of wingspan).

Turbine hub
Top half of the tower
Nacelle resting beside the bottom half of the tower.
The hub is somewhat visible between the two.
The tour group
Bottom half of the tower, looking up
Me, standing next to the nacelle
The turbine blades

Base of a turbine blade
Looking along the turbine blades

One end of the top half of the tower

Looking up the stairs at the top half of the tower
The next turbine was fully assembled, but essentially hadn't been turned on yet. That meant this turbine had all of the wiring and circuits for us to examine.

Below the turbine, looking up
Circuits inside the turbine
Inside the turbine, looking up
The door

Electrical box beside the turbine

A look inside the electrical box

At this point, we headed off to see the relay station where the turbines sent their electricity. 

View of a half-finished turbine from the bus. If you look closely, you can see a constructed blade assembly at the foot of that turbine.
The relay station

Relays. Five of the bars along the top split about 120 megawatts, while the sixth connects to a capacitor.
A transformer, with a berm to contain oil leaks.
If you look up, you can see lines which are intended to prevent the station from
being hit by lightning.
Electricity heading off to the end-user
Finally, we visited a working turbine that was actively generating electricity. The wind turbine made very little noise.  If you were standing in the right spot, you could hear a noise as the blades swept by that almost sounded like waves on a beach.

When we got there, they called the control headquarters in Florida and had them shut down the turbine so we could see how that worked. Basically, the primary method for stopping a turbine involves rotating the blades so that they no longer catch the wind.  So you can see this for yourself, I took two videos using my phone; the first one shows the turbine in action, while the second shows the turbine as it's stopping.  You should be able to notice the difference in the orientation of the blades.  Also, the turbine stopped fairly quickly after they sent the shutdown message.

All in all, it was a very fun and informative experience.  The NextEra guys who led us around were very knowledgeable and were able to easily answer all of our questions.  I definitely learned a lot about wind farms, as well as a bit about Reese, Michigan (for instance, the farmland there is naturally swampland, so the area needs a gridwork of pipes to carry away the water).