NMCC installs 10-kilowatt wind turbine to be used as teaching tool

Posted Aug. 13, 2011, at 2:42 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 13, 2011, at 3:58 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Two years ago, Northern Maine Community College launched a first of its kind in New England with the wind power technology program. The college secured a teacher, students and classroom space. The only thing they didn’t have was a windmill — until now.

Officials at the Presque Isle college announced Friday that a 10-kilowatt residential wind turbine had been installed on campus to serve as the latest teaching tool for students in the program, which teaches them to operate, maintain and repair wind turbine generators. Incoming and returning students in the wind power program and several additional programs will have access to it when classes resume later this month.

The windmill is at the site of NMCC’s Northern Maine Center for Excellence in Alternative Energy Training and Education, a short distance from campus on Skyway Street.

The $55,000 turbine, which will be fully operational this fall, was purchased using private funds donated to the college earlier this year by Presque Isle native Mary Smith, a philanthropist who contributed $1.2 million to NMCC to support expansion of the alternative energy curriculum.

Tim Crowley, president of NMCC, pegged the windmill as a “most valuable teaching tool for our students and instructors.”

“The immediate access to hands-on learning opportunities that this residential turbine provides will enhance the efforts of our instructors and will complement other technologies in solar and biomass energy that will be added to the alternative energy center in the coming months,” he said Friday.

The turbine, manufactured by Norman, Oklahoma-based Bergey Windpower Co., is an EXCEL model and measures 23 feet in diameter. It was installed on an 80-foot lattice tower and is designed for high reliability, low maintenance and automatic operation in adverse weather conditions.

The college purchased the tower through Northern Electric Inc. of Ashland. The company installed the turbine during the first week of August. With the turbine up and running, college officials are now looking forward to its use as an instructional tool.

Wayne Kilcollins, NMCC wind power technology instructor, said having the working turbine system available to students will allow them a firsthand opportunity to compare theoretical calculations with actual performance.

“Running calculations, reading articles and looking at pictures do not complete the learning experience,” he explained. “Having a system available gives the students the ability for ‘what if’ questions that they can work through and see changes in performance.”

Kilcollins said he intends to use the residential wind turbine in several of his courses, including safety fundamentals, residential wind, wind power concepts and turbine management.

Along with serving as a tool for calculation and comparison, NMCC also will use the tower for climb and rescue practice activities, and for inspection activities similar to those used in field service.

Before the installation of the NMCC unit, students in the wind power technology program used the wind turbine at the University of Maine at Presque Isle for climbing and as an instructional tool.

The EXCEL unit installed at the NMCC alternative energy center was first introduced by Bergey Windpower Co. in 1983 and has been installed at over 1,800 sites around the world. According to BWC literature, the turbines have a design operating life of 30 to 50 years.

The American Wind Energy Association rates the annual energy production on the turbine model at 13,200 kilowatt hours at an average wind speed of 11 mph. The college will use the unit as a supplemental power source for the Northern Maine Center for Excellence in Alternative Energy Training and Education.

The wind power technology program has been a huge asset both for the college and the first students in the program, who graduated from the program in May. The program quickly became popular and helped boost enrollment at the college. By the time the students graduated from the program, two of the 14 graduates had secured jobs, and six more had interviews with manufacturers such as Siemens and with officials from General Electric, which maintains operations at a number of wind farm sites including Mars Hill, Stetson and Lincoln.

The program also attracted the attention of donors, who provided the funding both for state-of-the-art equipment and for the new alternative energy center.