High Winds Set Turbines A-Spinning

Trent Ernst, Editor

After the high winds of last weekend, which sent sheds tumbling into neighbour’s yards and saw trees get blown down, Thursday was a remarkably calm day.

For the folks at Capital Power, somewhere between the two would be perfect, but as BC’s newest wind park, its all about the highs and the lows.

According to Site Manager Glen Palmer, the highs recently have been maybe a little too high: “We came into work one day last week and half the park was shut down because the wind was too high,” says Palmer. “Once it started again, though, we were running at nearly peak capacity for a few hours there.”

Last week’s high winds are not the highest the site has seen. Last month, a gust peaked out at 115 kph. This most recent blast only saw 90 kph winds which is the peak that the turbines shut down. “The winds tend to peak around two or three in the afternoon,” says Palmer.

While there have been some strong periods of wind, taken on average, Sunday saw an average wind speed of 54 kph. Averaged over the week, the wind speed is 30 kph. And averaged over the last six months, the average is about 26 kph.

Senior Manager of Renewables for Capital Power, Sandeep Sharma, says that’s the only way you can look at wind power, is on average. “Depending on when you look, it can look like everything’s going really well, or not very well at all,” says Sharma. “We’ve been operating only six months, so we’re not going to hit our targets every month. The longer that you’re operating, the better you can average it out. The turbines are doing really well, but there was a couple weeks where we had low production, so it might currently look a little low, if you just look at the last month or two.”

But, says Palmer, averaged across six months, they appear to be on track. “Most wind projects run at between 30 and 35 percent capacity. We’re running at about 35 percent, so we’re in that range. We’re averaging about 50 mw on 140 mw plants.”

This means, says Palmer, that the modeling was accurate. “We’re finding exactly what we’re looking for, based on the wind resources.”

Spring, says Palmer, is generally the high season for power production, while summer is usually calmer. “That’s what they’re expecting out of the place. Anyone who lives here has probably observed that it isn’t as windy in summer. With the late spring, we saw some of that slowdown. It’s not always going to be windy, but last Sunday was a good peak.”

It usually isn’t as windy on cold winter’s days, either, says Palmer. That’s a good thing, as the turbines aren’t designed to spin in really cold weather. “They are designed to cut out at -30. Below that, they go into pause mode, just maintain heat with electric heater. So if there’s no wind when it is really cold, it is beneficial to us.”

Every once in a while, says Palmer, people will drive past a sea of spinning turbines to see one sitting, unmoving. This is generally a sign that the crews are doing preventative maintenance on it. “On any given day, there’ll be a couple turbines that aren’t spinning because we have to get our people in there safely,” he says. “There’s two sets of services per turbine per year, to do oil changes and other preventative maintenance. Once you get some miles on the turbine, then you’ll have to do some maintenance, just like on a car.”

Palmer says that there have been no real surprises. “We have good technologies,” he says. “With Vestas having crews here, they are being very vigilant. It’s nice to have the same people that do the install are the people who are doing the maintenance.

Sharma says that in places like Europe, where the wind parks are generally older, there is more likelyhood of third-parties to do maintenance, but here, where the turbines are still under warranty, the manufacturers want to make sure that everything is running perfectly. “The reality is we put a lot of money into this wind farm, We didn’t want to cut any corners, because we really want to make sure we have a long-term facility here, that’s reliable and keeps generating power.”

Palmer says that people who are planning on visiting the turbines need to be careful in the fall and in the spring. “It’s a normal occurrence for turbines to get ice shedding, where the blades ice up, then throw the ice. For next year, we’ll have signs up warning about that. It’s not an unusual occurrence. You don’t want to be under them at the time. The technology is smart, it senses when there’s an imbalance, and we’ll pitch out of the wind to slow it down if there’s an imbalance.”

In addition to “beware of ice” signs come winter, Palmer says people need to be aware that this summer there will be more work happening. “There’ll be more crews back in there to do cleanup: installing drains, working on the roads… we have a planned shutdown on the substation. It won’t be near construction traffic, but you’ll see more activities.”