Big equipment — in more ways than one — arrived on the Mitchell Technical Institute campus Thursday morning.
The tech school’s Wind Turbine Technology program is receiving two nacelles and rotor hubs, with the first set arriving on Thursday. The nacelle housing weighs about 51,000 pounds, meaning cranes from Puetz Corporation were needed to put the equipment into place. But it’s also a big donation for the school, which is starting to develop an outdoor wind turbine training lab. It will be located on-campus and give students a chance to train on the actual machinery their field of study requires when they graduate from the two-year program.
The donation was from NextEra Energy Resources, which put the estimated value of the equipment at as much as $500,000 apiece, meaning the two parts are near $1 million in value. That was an estimate on their potential value being sold used, because the turbine parts are 20 years old.
“When you take into account what it means for our current and future students, it’s a huge deal,” MTI President Mark Wilson said.
The equipment comes from a wind farm in Lake Benton, Minnesota, a 137-turbine operation that was permitted in 1998 and is being decommissioned. New turbines are being built in its place this year.
The nacelle houses the generating parts of a wind turbine, which generally includes the generator, gearbox, drive train and brake assembly. The rotor hubs, which have three sides and rounded holes in each part, hold the turbine blades in place when the turbine rotates.
“It was a great opportunity for us to support the colleges and education around the region. It just made sense,” said Brittany Bruce, who works in permitting and community development for NextEra Energy. “From an educational perspective and from a support perspective, we’re trying to develop a number of facilities in the area, so we always like to help where we can.”
In South Dakota, NextEra Energy owns three wind farms that can produce 190.5 megawatts of energy. It owns the turbines at the South Dakota Wind Energy Center in Hyde County, which was the state’s first major wind farm built in 2003. It also operates a wind farm in Day County (built in 2010), and purchased the 34-turbine, 51-megawatt Wessington Springs Wind Farm in 2009. Earlier this month, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission approved the Crowned Ridge Wind Farm in Codington and Grant counties, which will have up to 130 wind turbines producing 300 megawatts of energy over more than 53,000 acres. The $400 million project is expected to be built in 2020, and a second phase of the project involving 132 turbines and $425 million in construction is planned for 2020, as well.
Currently, MTI owns one wind turbine at the PrairieWinds wind project near White Lake, which was completed in 2011. Those are 1.5-megawatt turbines, but Brian Roberts — MTI’s Wind Turbine Technology department head and instructor — said the 40-mile distance allows students to visit the site once a week, and weather conditions made those trips difficult this year, Wilson said.
Roberts said the on-campus equipment will change the way educators are able to teach wind turbine repair and maintenance skills to students, and market to potential students. MTI has the state’s only wind turbine-specific training program.
“Right now, we talk in the classroom but don’t have a great hands-on facility like this,” Roberts said. “So now, as we’re talking about it in the classroom, we can go outside, look at it, tear it apart, put it back together. When they graduate and they go for an interview and they ask if they know how to change bearings on a generator, they can say, ‘Yeah, I know how to do that.’”
Wilson said the training wind lab is a short-term goal, one that he hopes to have finished within two to three years, located near MTI's Energy Training Center. It is projected to have at least six nacelles when the training area opens, and potentially as many as 12 in the long term, with the units placed at three different heights. The first two nacelles arriving this week — which were from 0.75-megawatt turbines — will be placed on the ground. Current state-of-the-art turbines can produce as many as 3 megawatts each.
MTI had six graduates in 2018 from the Wind Turbine Technology program, and nine graduates in 2019. Earlier this spring, MTI reported all six 2018 graduates were working in that field, and four were working on wind turbines in South Dakota. About 25 first- and second-year students are expected in the program this year.