By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
As Bowling Green’s aging wind turbines work to produce power, city officials on Monday discussed buying some wind power generated in Pennsylvania.
Twenty years ago, the city’s four giant wind turbines put Bowling Green on the green energy map. But these turbines are now industry dinosaurs.
“They don’t generate as much as they used to,” the city’s director of public utilities, Brian O’Connell, said Monday evening. “But our goal is to keep them going as long as we can.”
A turbine has stopped working all together. According to O’Connell, the price to fix just the shorted generator is close to $300,000.
Two others still convert wind into energy, but break down more frequently as they age. Only one turbine works well.
“We’re trying to keep them going as long as they’re financially feasible,” O’Connell said.
“This technology is an older style,” with more mechanical parts, he said. “Some of the parts are hard to come by. They don’t make them anymore.”
The turbines were erected in 2002 and began producing power in 2003, giving the city the distinction of being home to Ohio’s first wind farm, located west of Bowling Green, on the spillway of the Wood County. The tall turbines stand out from the flat terrain, making them a local attraction.
“They are definitely a landmark in this area,” O’Connell said. “It’s not for lack of trying to keep them going.”
At the same time, the turbines generated up to 7.2 megawatts of power, enough to supply electricity to approximately 2,500 residential customers.
“They’re still one of our lowest-cost utility operations,” O’Connell said a couple of years ago. “Whenever they spin, they make power. They’re a cheap source of energy for us.”
But the turbines have had more downtime for repairs. And fixes don’t come cheap.
“We’ve had a couple of failed gearboxes,” which can cost up to $500,000 to replace. Also, arranging a crane high enough to carry out the repairs can be very time consuming.
The four turbines are 257 feet tall, as tall as a 30-story building. With blades extending 132 feet from the turbine housing, each unit measures nearly 400 feet tall when the blades rotate at their highest point.
Newer models are able to generate more power as they have longer blades. And some don’t have the gearbox on top of the turbines, making repairs easier.
But there are several drawbacks to replacing aging turbines with new ones, he said.
First, the costs are high.
When the wind turbines were erected in 2002, they cost about $2 million a piece. In 2020, the cost to replace them with newer models was estimated at $8.8 million per piece.
“The cost of putting in a few units is pretty high,” O’Connell said.
Second, there is the proximity of a bald eagle nest to wind turbines. Last year, a landfill worker heard a thump and saw a bald eagle fall after being hit by a turbine blade, O’Connell said.
The remaining bald eagle found another mate and this year had eaglets in the same nest east of the dump. Because the birds have “protected” status, O’Connell said he would require special permits to erect new turbines near the nest.
And third, the state of Ohio has made it much more difficult to build wind and solar farms.
The debt on the existing wind turbine project was paid off in full in 2015, several years ahead of schedule. And money has been set aside to retire the turbines when they are no longer operational.
“We’re going to run them until they’re not financially in our best interest,” O’Connell said.
At the same time that Bowling Green may be seeing the end of its own turbines, the city is considering buying some wind power generated in Pennsylvania.
The Public Utilities Board voted Monday evening to sign an agreement to buy wind power from the large Locust Ridge Wind Project in eastern Pennsylvania, to help power Bowling Green’s water and wastewater plants.
Jim Odneal, the city’s assistant director of utilities, explained that daily short-term market purchases through the AMP Northern Power Pool will help the city cope with expected power price increases.
There is already an ordinance that allows the utility director to execute short-term (less than a year) power purchases and sales with American Municipal Power to quickly respond to fluctuations in wholesale market prices.
From 2018 to early 2022, market energy prices were quite low and stable. More recently, prices in the short-term energy market have risen and are expected to rise further in the coming months, Odneal said.
To soften the impact of expected higher energy prices, AMP has negotiated an agreement for wind power from the Locust Ridge Wind Project in eastern Pennsylvania.
Locust Ridge is a 100 MW wind project that has been in operation since 2009. Estimated savings would be $54,000 over three years for the Bowling Green hydro plant and $82,000 over three years for the waste water