Crowder College officials say they are awaiting the delivery of computer hardware parts before the college’s wind turbine can finally be functional.

Crowder College officials say they are awaiting the delivery of computer hardware parts before the college’s wind turbine can finally be functional.

Exactly when that will be, however, hasn’t been pinpointed. The plain fact of the matter is, it’s risky to say, according to Dan Eberle, interim director of Crowder’s MARET Center.

As far back as January, it was hoped the turbine would be spinning within a few weeks. Many months later, the wind machine’s three 750-pound blades remain still. 

Mounted on a 124-foot tower, the prominently visible 65-kilowatt turbine needs a replacement logic board, Eberle said, as well as new sensors. Though the equipment has been ordered, Eberle was hesitant to give a timeframe as to when it would arrive and the turbine made operational. 

“That’s the thing that bites me — every time I tell somebody when,” he laughed. “I couldn’t even begin to make a guess. It’s been a running joke with me that ‘in two weeks we can expect it.’ When we had a meeting two weeks ago, the computer was being shipped. Well, two weeks later, the computer was still on a dock but ‘it was being shipped.’ It’s out of our hands so I don’t want to make an estimate.”

According to Eberle, technical difficulties are to blame for the initial hold-up, as far as any more hardware being required at all before the turbine could run. He said that when technicians were inspecting the machine they noticed a problem in that the logic board, which runs the entire circuitry, and some of the sensors were out of sync, sparking the need to order new parts.

The sensors detect wind speed and direction, the amount of power being produced and match the power with what is being produced in Empire District Electric’s power grid.

“We have to match what we’re putting out to what Empire is bringing in so that we can speed it back into the grid,” Eberle said.

The turbine can’t produce electricity unless it receives a signal from the grid. But when it does, electricity generated by the turbine will go directly to Crowder’s own power grid before moving onto the main grid.

In normal conditions, the blades of the turbine will spin about twice every second. While it will start producing power in an eight mile per hour breeze, the turbine won’t reach its full capacity until winds reach 35 miles per hour.

Though it’s unlikely the turbine could power the entire campus, save in extraordinary circumstances, the expected excess electricity produced for the future 27,000 square foot MARET Center building — it’s main consumer — would be passed along to the rest of the campus, reducing the amount of energy Crowder uses and hopefully slashing utility costs.
Incidentally, Eberle expects groundbreaking to possibly be this spring for phase one of the MARET Center facility.

Phase one will include about 9,000 square feet of classroom and office space, as well an energy courtyard surrounded on three sides by a “living wall”, which basically means it’s covered with vegetation. Also in the first phase of development will be geothermal wells that use the Earth’s natural heat to provide energy.

The building is planned to function as a living laboratory for the college’s alternative and renewable energy program, as well as act as an incubator for new sustainable energy- orientated business start-ups.

Last week, Crowder’s board of trustees authorized Eberle to seek bids on a construction manager for the project.

One of the requirements for the job is that the applicant must be certified in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

When hired, the construction manager will be in charge of reviewing the building plans to configure estimated costs before drawing the specifications to send out as bid documents to prospective contractors.

“Then (the construction manager) will actually supervise construction to make sure it’s being done according to LEED standards,” Eberle stated.

Should Crowder’s MARET Center facility gain LEED certification, it would instantly draw worldwide attention, according to former dean of extended campuses and economic development C.J. Shannon.