DEVILS LAKE In about another month, Lake Region State College will have a fully functional wind turbine that will provide power for the campus and a learning lab for students in the college's wind energy program.
"We've been working really hard on this since 2006," said interim college president Doug Darling. "It is is incredibly rewarding just to be able to look north and see the turbine."
The official ground breaking for the project was held in early October and, by the end of November, the tower had been erected and much of the mechanical work had been completed. Darling said work was still under way on electrical wiring and making connections back to the campus.
People attend a ground breaking in October for Lake Region State College’s new wind turbine.
The college's wind turbine is located three miles northwest of the campus. That will be a much shorter distance for students in the wind energy program who are learning how to repair the massive wind turbines when they break down. The college's wind energy program started in 2009, but the college had lacked a living learning lab. That meant the instructor and students had to jump into a car and travel a few hours in a day to reach one of the partner sites where students could learn to work on a wind turbine.
When the college's wind turbine is completed, Darling said it will provide more than enough power for the school's needs. The college will sell back the excess energy that is created by the wind turbine to Ottertail Energy to help offset the cost of the project.
To install the wind turbine, a variety of circumstances needed to be considered before a funding request to the state Legislature could be formulated, according to the college.
College officials looked at possible sites for the wind turbine, erected a test mini-tower to measure wind velocity, consulted permitting and regulatory agencies, contacted power companies to purchase excess power, contacted wind turbine manufacturers. Every time the plan changed, they had to recalculate the costs.
The Legislature approved funding for the project in 2009, under the condition that the college first had to make sure all options for using federal stimulus dollars were exhausted. Meanwhile, a federal agency approved the site and Otter Tail Power and the college agreed on a contract for the sale of excess capacity produced by the wind turbine, and the college finally worked out problems with regulatory agencies.
According to the college, EAPC Engineering worked with the college to help manage the state, federal and regulatory approvals associated with setting up the wind turbine; Honeywell helped the college obtain funding through the Bank of America and is working with local engineering firms during the construction phase. NativeEnergy's Help Build carbon offsets provided early funding for the project and are also helping make the project affordable.
"We wouldn't have gotten it done without everybody working together," said Darling, who said the partnerships between the college, state and federal government agencies and private industry all helped to make the project come together.
Darling said there are 19 students in the college's wind energy program this fall. The college offers both a one-year certificate program and a two-year associate's degree. Darling said there is a high demand for people who can repair the wind turbines, and it will take a few years before they can train enough people to meet all the demand in the industry in this region.
Students who complete the college's wind energy technicial program are qualified to work as operational and maintenance technicians at utility-sized wind sites. Students learn skills in electrical theory, lower voltage electrical circuits, motor and generator theory, core hydraulics and fall protection.