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Lake Land wind turbines are up, running

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MATTOON — After months of patience, the Lake Land College wind turbines are running smoothly.

Last week, repairs on the south turbine — one of the two 100-kilowatt towers on campus — were completed after engineers ran diagnostics tests to determine the defective piece of the turbine was the inverter, said Ray Rieck, vice president of business services at Lake Land College. In simple terms, the inverter, which was repaired and replaced under warranty at no cost to the college, takes the direct current from the generator and changes it to electricity that can be used in homes, labs and buildings called an alternating current, he said.

“It changes the raw current into a current that can be used,” Rieck added.

However, passersby might not notice the turbines pick up speed for a couple of weeks because the area’s windiest time of year begins in the fall, Rieck said.

“Generally speaking, they will ramp up in November until May then slow down again,” he said. “You’ll see the occasional windy day in summer when it’s storming, but for the most part, it’s the fall, winter and spring.”

The turbines were installed at the beginning of the year to add to the college’s energy project that is funded by a mix of federal funding, including a community-based job training grant, and administration has estimated the turbines could save about $50,000 in electricity costs per year for the college, Rieck said.

Wind turbines have been erected across the country, especially in the northern planes of Illinois, however those are visibly larger, Rieck said.

“In some cases, they are 10 time larger than ours,” he said.

The reason is the average wind speeds in those areas are around 17-18 mph while the average winds on Lake Land’s campus are around 11 mph.

“That’s a big difference that determines the size of the turbines we have on campus,” Rieck said.

Also, Lake Land’s campus is in the flight path for the Coles Count Memorial Airport, and according to FAA regulations, they cannot build higher than 200 feet. However for future turbine projects, Rieck says they are already looking for a variance to go higher, and airport administration has mentioned the college could build up to 300 feet without interrupting the flight path.

That is a positive for the college’s energy net, because generally speaking, the higher the turbine reaches the greater the wind speeds, Rieck said.

To capitalize on the winds blowing through the area, Lake Land’s turbines use 39-foot blades that pitch or move like sails on a boat to capture wind blowing in many different directions, Rieck said.

“It acts like a glove to capture wind to move quicker and faster at lower speeds,” he said.

With 5-7 mph of wind, the turbines can create about 5 kilowatts of electricity — a 1-1 output ratio, however when winds reach about 20 mph, they can start producing about 80 kilowatts of electricity. The generator tops out at just over 100 kilowatts.

Though it took several months for the turbines to get moving, they are not the only green energy efforts at Lake Land. Without taking the turbines into account, the college has seen $280,000 in cost savings through the geothermal systems other taking other steps to curb electrical use. This included changes in lighting and adding different control systems to the buildings to limit the amount of energy used in each.

The college has updated the Field House, the northwest building and the Learning Resources Center. It also added the 53,000 sq. ft. West Building, and since making adjustments, they have seen a 30-45 percent reduction in energy costs in some buildings.

“It’s different from building to building because buildings with labs use more energy like the building that contains the dental hygiene labs, but even it saw a 35 percent reduction in costs,” Rieck said.

The renovations at the Field House, which included adding air conditioning the gymnasium, totaled a 45 percent reduction in energy costs.

“So it’s a lot of things that are the culmination of renovations and additions that have helped out with the savings,” Rieck said.

However, the savings are the first benefit to the clean energy work, Rieck said.

Fifteen students are enrolled in the renewable energy certification program this semester at Lake Land. The course includes technical math, energy technology classes and labs that require collecting data from the geothermal wells and turbines.

“They get hands-on experience actually climbing the towers,” Rieck said. “They won’t actually work on the tower, but they will collect data for labs.”

Eventually the college hopes to create a smart grid on campus using information the students collected. To date, 17 students have climbed the turbine tower.

“In mid-September, I went out to the base of the south turbine to see what progress was going on, and I saw a lab out there about to climb for the first time,” Rieck said. “The students were beaming, and they couldn’t wait to climb — I think that excitement translates into learning the craft.”

However, because of the class, Coles County residents might notice on a day with 15 mph winds the turbines might not be moving.

“It’s likely we’ve shut them down for the class to conduct a lab there,” Rieck said. “It’s a safety factor everyone will have to become accustomed to.”

The next step for the renewable energy initiative at Lake Land will be installing two 10-kilowatt solar energy panels. Rieck said they should take the project proposal to the board of trustees during the November meeting.

They plan to use grant money to purchase and install the equipment that will also be used for the certification program labs.

“This is neat technology that we can pass on to our students to get them jobs that are relevant in today’s economy,” Rieck said.

Contact Zyskowski at kzyskowski@jg-tc.com or 217-238-6869.

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