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WMU wind turbine is first for Kalamazoo area

Aug. 22, 2007

KALAMAZOO--The new 40-foot wind turbine on Western Michigan University's Parkview Campus is an obvious sign of changes to come for the region.

Installed the end of July by WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, WMU's Physical Plant and contractor Bauer Power, the generator provides two kilowatts of power--a small percentage of the University's overall electrical consumption but enough to handle the electrical needs of a typical home without air conditioning. Upgrades scheduled for the generator call for more than doubling that output to five kilowatts during the next couple of years.

A dedication of the unit will be at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, with WMU President John Dunn and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton speaking at the event.

It is the first modern, direct-grid-connected, electricity-producing wind turbine installed in the Kalamazoo area and one of only a few in southwest Michigan. A handful of homeowners and schools in the state as well as Lansing Community College have installed similar devices.

"In the next five to 10 years, they should be much more common, so we are ahead of the curve," says the project's head, Dr. John Patten, director of WMU's Center for Manufacturing Research and chair and professor of the Department of Manufacturing Engineering.

The University's highly visible tower with its three six-foot blades can be spotted from nearby U.S. 131 and has drawn attention from casual observers and curious energy entrepreneurs.

Patten has been making his rounds to meetings across the state and in Kalamazoo, speaking with business people and government representatives about the environmental and economic benefits of wind turbine manufacturing. Besides encouraging communities and businesses to consider wind turbine generators, he has been fundraising for two larger wind turbines at WMU--a 10 to 15 kilowatt generator and a 100 to 200 kilowatt generator.

Facts about the wind turbine generator

The blades only spin about 25 percent of the time, and they will spin more in the spring, fall and winter when there is more wind than in the summer. It only needs a little wind, about 8 mph, to get started, and once it gets started it doesn't need as much wind to continue operating. The optimal or design wind speed is 12 mph, and the unit will continue to operate at a maximum output up to 50 mph winds. When it exceeds this maximum, the unit will shut down temporarily until the wind dies down to avoid any possible damage to the turbine.

The generator includes a digital wireless remote interface that provides information about the number of blade revolutions per minute (RPM), power output (kW) and accumulated power (kWh) data directly to University computers at the Parkview Campus.

The cost of building utility scale wind energy plants is comparable to the cost of coal-fired plants, although for wind turbines there is no use of fossil fuels like coal.

Media contact: Deanne Molinari, (269) 387-8400, deanne.molinari@wmich.edu

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