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Windmills for Northern

Havre's university has added a major component to a program teaching students about a rapidly growing field — wind energy.

Jay Reed, instructor in the Sustainable Energy Technology Program at Montana State University-Northern, said the college has signed a deal to use two full-sized commercial wind turbines north of Havre in that program.

"It is pretty exciting," said Reed, adding that, with research he has done, Northern seems to be the only university, at least in this region of the world, that has operating commercial turbines as part of its curriculum.

The equipment will be used along with a small wind turbine and solar panels already in use on Northern's campus.

The commercial Vesta V-15 wind turbines are located at the former U.S. Air Force base about 30 miles north of Havre, installed when the space was being used as the Anchor Academy boys school. The turbines can produce 60 kilowatts to 65 kilowatts of electricity an hour.

Reed said the owners and operators of the school installed the turbines to power the facility, selling any excess back to power companies, but then moved the school from north-central Montana to Missouri.

The turbines have been idle ever since.

"They are connected to the (power) grid," Reed said, "but (the Anchor Academy operators) walked away and turned them off, and they haven't run for five years."

It is his goal to have students in the sustainable energy program get the turbines running again, then use them for hands-on experience in the classes.

He said he worked out agreements with The Harvest Foundation, which operates the academy in Missouri and owns the property, to allow students to work on the turbines.

The Harvest Foundation will receive credit for any power generated that goes onto the electrical grid, the students get the hands-on experience, and both sides benefit, Reed said.

And there are other benefits — such as the cost to Northern.

"The reconditioned price of the V-15 wind turbines is $100,000 each, installed," Greg Kegel, dean of Northern's College of Technical Sciences, said in a release. "MSUN will have no out-of-pocket purchase and installation expenses for the use of the turbines."

The students will have numerous opportunities using the turbines — starting with the work to recondition them and get the turbines again operational.

The students also will get hands-on work training them to work in the field of the wind energy industry, including climbing a lattice tower and practicing safe climbing methods while working at heights of over 80 feet on a regular basis. They will also practice electrical safety using on live commercial equipment, practice maintenance work on generators, bearings, gears, hydraulics, brake systems, electrical trouble shooting, and many other aspects of wind turbine maintenance.

Reed said the turbines will help prepare students to work on wind fields including those going up in Montana, but also around the country and around the world.

It also will give experience that can be applied to other industries, such as work in the oil fields in the Bakken and numerous other opportunities, Reed said.

"It covers many disciplines," he said, although "this course is more to train people to enter the commercial wind industry."

The students have been out to the site twice, so far, but the weather has not allowed actual work on the turbines. That will start later in the spring, Reed said.

The site had three control panels, and Reed has brought the extra back to Northern's campus for hands-on work.

The V-15 turbines are small, compared to the larger, modern turbines in use such as between Shelby and Browning. The turbines at the old base are 80-feet tall, with about a 50-foot span on the wings.

The modern commercial turbines can be 300-feet tall and have a wingspan of half a football field.

"It gives you a good perspective how big those are," Reed said.

The turbines Northern is incorporating into its curriculum are dwarfed by the massive modern turbines, he said, "but, they're big enough."

And, he said, the U.S. business needing trained technicians is likely to continue growing by leaps and bounds, as it already is in other parts of the world.

Calling wind energy alternative energy is a misnomer, Reed said.

"It is now mainstream energy," he said.


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