BAD AXE — DTE Energy presented a root-cause analysis of needed wind turbine upgrades to the Huron County Planning Commission on Wednesday.
Gearboxes, pitch motors and blade bearings have been switched out in recent months on various turbines in DTE’s Thumb Wind Parks, said Dennis Buda, operations manager.
He called it a “proactive approach” to prevent malfunctions in the future at the wind parks.
Buda said turbine blades run the gearboxes, which are located in a turbine’s nacelle. The nacelle houses generating components of a turbine, and is located at the top of the tower.
The gearbox runs the generator.
Gearboxes had to be replaced because they were made of “not the best metal from overseas,” Buda said. Specifically, the metal came from China.
The gearboxes were designed by General Electric, with some produced in the United States, and some produced in China, said Austin Osentoski, wind technician for DTE, who was also at the meeting.
There are three pitch motors per turbine, one for each blade. The pitch motor turns the blade and holds it in place, Buda said.
Key way failures and bearing failures were determined to be the cause of the pitch motor issues, Buda added.
Eighty-one percent of the motors have been switched out.
Finally, failing blade bearings were addressed.
In 2016, 27 were replaced, and nine have been replaced this year, Buda said.
Osentoski added that each blade bearing weighs 60,000 pounds.
Planner Charles Bumhoffer asked Buda who is paying for all of these repairs. Buda declined to comment, saying that he does not comment on money issues, and that he is not able to comment on contractual matters.
DTE owns and operates 213 turbines in its Thumb wind parks.
Planner Robert Oakes asked Buda whether wind turbines in the future will be smaller and more powerful.
Buda responded that he wasn’t sure, adding, “I’m not a crystal ball guy.”
Planners also questioned when the life of the turbine would end, and what would happen upon decommissioning.
The turbines will last 20 years, Buda said.
But he added that specifics of decommissioning have not been determined, although there is a decommissioning bond in place, per the county's wind ordinance.
“When that end of life occurs, DTE will be here to accommodate that,” he said.
Also during the meeting, planning commission Chair Bernie Creguer made it clear that insults are not acceptable from either planners or members of the public.
He scolded both Planner Terry Heck and Bloomfield Township resident Robert Gaffke, both of whom made remarks about DTE at different points during the meeting.
Heck objected to information from DTE being projected onto the overhead screen at the meeting before Budda’s presentation.
“DTE does not run this planning commission,” Heck said, repeatedly, later adding: “They’d probably like to.”
Creguer then urged Heck to avoid making insults.
During final public comment, Gaffke commented on Buda’s final slide, which showed children from Sigel Township School, who participate in DTE-sponsored educational programs.
While commending DTE for it’s “marketing strategy,” Gaffke called it a “good reason to homeschool your kids.”
“This board does not have to listen to insults,” Creguer countered.
In other action, a county commissioner and a former county commissioner each chastised the board during public comment for its stance on solar energy, which was discussed at a planning commission master plan meeting last week.
No final policy decisions were made, but officials discussed restricting solar development.
The consensus of the board was in support of the following statement:
"The installation of commercial solar energy facilities is an existential threat to the county's agricultural economy as it removes productive agricultural land, and therefore, this type of development is not supported," the draft states.
Commissioner Steve Vaughan said Wednesday that he objected to an all-out ban, noting that Huron County currently has three commercial solar sites, and there have been no complaints.
Vaughan also powers his home with solar energy.
He also said that there’s not a lot of money in farming, and that, “If we keep kicking these farmers in the nuts,” they would become disenfranchised.
Vaughan added a Dec. 15 law relicensing marijuana dispensaries should be of more concern to the board.
Former county commissioner Rich Swartzendruber, who was at last week’s meeting, emphasized a master plan survey that showed 73 percent of those surveyed support solar development.
Swartzendruber encouraged the planners to take into account the public’s input, and make some allowance for solar development, while preserving prime farmland.
The survey, however, did not specify that development would be commercial. Jeff Smith, county building and zoning director, later added that most survey respondents were from self-zoned municipalities, and not subject to county zoning.