By JAN LARSON McLaughlin
BG Independent News
As Bowling Green’s aging wind turbines labor to generate power, city officials on Monday discussed buying some of the wind power generated in Pennsylvania.
Twenty years ago, the city’s four giant wind turbines put Bowling Green on the green energy map. But those turbines are now industry dinosaurs.
“They’re not producing as much as they used to,” Brian O’Connell, the city’s director of public utilities, said Monday evening. “But our goal is to keep them going as long as possible.”
One turbine has stopped working all together. According to O’Connell, the price tag to just fix a shorted out generator is close to $300,000.
The other two still turn wind into power, but they often break down as they age. Only one turbine is running properly.
“We’re trying to keep them going as economically as possible,” O’Connell said.
“The technology is old-fashioned,” with too many mechanical pieces, he said. “Some parts are hard to get. They don’t make them anymore. “
The turbines were erected in 2002 and began powering out in 2003 – giving the city the distinction of being home to Ohio’s first utility-sized wind farm, located west of Bowling Green at the Wood County Landfill. The tall turbines stand on flat terrain, making them a local attraction.
“They’re definitely a landmark in the area,” O’Connell said. “Not for lack of trying to keep them going.”
At one time, the turbines produced up to 7.2 megawatts of power—enough to supply electricity for about 2,500 residential customers.
“They’re still one of our lowest-cost utility operations,” O’Connell said a few years ago. “When they move, they make power. They are a source of cheap power for us.”
But there has been more downtime for maintenance of the turbines. And the fixes aren’t cheap.
“We’ve had some gearboxes fail,” which can cost up to $500,000 to replace. Also arranging for a crane tall enough to carry out repairs can be time consuming.
The four turbines are 257 feet tall—as tall as a 30-story building. With blades extending 132 feet from the turbine casing, each unit measures approximately 400 feet tall when the blades rotate at their highest point.
Newer models have longer blades and are able to generate more power. And some turbines don’t have a gearbox on top, which makes maintenance easier.
But replacing old turbines with new ones has many downsides, he said.
First, the cost is steep.
When the wind turbines were built in 2002, they cost about $2 million a piece. In 2020, the cost to replace them with new models was estimated at $8.8 million apiece.
“The cost to keep some of the units is too high,” O’Connell said.
Second, there is the proximity of bald eagle nests to wind turbines. Last year, a landfill worker heard a crash, 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 there were eagles in the same nest east of the landfill. Because the birds have a “protected” status, O’Connell said special permits would be needed to erect new turbines near nests.
And third, the state of Ohio has made it very difficult to build wind and solar farms.
The debt on the existing wind turbine project was paid off in full in 2015 – several years earlier than anticipated. And money has been set aside to remove the turbines when they are no longer operational.
“We’re going to run them until they’re 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 energy generated in Pennsylvania.
The Board of Public Utilities voted Monday evening to enter into an agreement to purchase wind power from the large Locust Ridge Wind Project in eastern Pennsylvania, to help power Bowling Green’s water and wastewater plants.
Jim O’Donnell, the city’s assistant director of utilities, said short-term daily market purchases through the AMP Northern Power Pool will help offset the city’s expected energy price increases during the season.
The ordinance continues to allow the utility director to make short-term (less than one year) power purchases and sales with U.S. municipal power to respond quickly to wholesale market price fluctuations.
From 2018 to early 2022, market energy prices were fairly low and stable. Recently, short-term energy market prices have risen, and are expected to rise even more in the coming months, Odneal said.
To soften the impact of expected higher energy prices, AMP has contracted 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 water plant and $82,000 over three years for the wastewater plant.