Friday, August 19, 2011

The Wind Turbine Goes Up! And Then, Comes Down...

This is the tower arriving way back in February 2010. It was very cold that day.

Here's Kurt unloading the tower. He has a good time no matter what he's doing. I like that in a guy.

On July 13, 2011, after a two years of planning (we tend to multi-task so stuff takes a while - see photos, above), we finally raised our wind turbine. It was an amazing, exciting, eagerly awaited event – those in the community who weren’t helping were watching, which was easy to do, as it went on for several days.

We purchased a 100’ tower, which in its previous life was a radio tower at the local hospital. While the tower came with a gin pole (essentially a lever designed to help raise the tower) we still had to figure out how to get the whole thing to work.

Everything at DR is essentially an experiment – when it came time to raise the tower the crew found that there wasn’t quite enough cable to raise it. So with the gin pole alllllllllmmmmmost there, a series of cable extensions were added. It was quite a show.

Below are a few picture with details. I realize that is it not a very comprehensive explanation of how to raise a tower, but it's the best I've got.

The 100' tower rests on the ground. The gin pole is that thing sticking straight up in the air. Welded to the tower at a 45-degree angle, it is used as a lever to raise the tower. At the far end, in the DR driveway, the turbine is being installed.

Robby and Tom work on attaching the blades of the 3,000 watt turbine. Tamer and Armand, visiting while making a documentary on communities, film it all.

This sucker is BIG. At least for us. And no matter what they say, size DOES matter.

Lots of folks took turns ratcheting the tower up. No wimpy fuel-powered winches for us, no sir-eee! Here Robby demonstrates his manliness.

Slowly the tower went up and up and up. It was very cool to watch. And then, it stopped.

We had run out of cable.

By now the gin pole was really high, and pretty much out of reach. The Mercantile Tower Brain Trust went to work. How to get someone up high enough to attach more cable? Hmmmm. What if we brought out the tractor and put Tom on the bucket? FANTASTIC idea!

Thomas and Kurt providing ballast while Tom climbs.

Tom, defying death at every turn, perches (happily) on the tractor bucket to add yet another length of cable. The gin pole is to his upper right, and soooooooo close to the ground.

I secretly think that they (Tom, Thomas, Kurt, et. al) LIKE the drama of projects like this - finding ways to make seemingly impossible situations work out just dandy. They were psyched, and having a good time.

The crowd looks on anxiously. L-R Kristen, Claire, Haley, Meghan, Armand.

They scrounged up more cable and attached it. We continued to ratchet up the tower. And we ran out of cable. Again.

So they attached more.

Dave and Thomas connecting the cable extension.

After fiddling around a bit, the tower was up, the blades were turning in the breeze and power was being collected. It felt like a freaking miracle.

It was an incredible high to look up and see those blades turning, generating power (remember, we don't have TV and so tend to be quite easily amused). We designed the Mercantile's power system to run on both solar and wind - in tandem they are a great duo. Where we are located in Northeastern Missouri it is almost always windy when it isn't sunny. Because the system is fairly large (we have 28 batteries to fill) the power grew incrementally - at first we weren't even sure that the system was working. But it was, and slowly the batteries filled up.

And then came a big storm. On July 28th, the wind blew over the top portion of the wind turbine. Normally we would have been devastated, or at least tremendously bummed. But that morning when we woke up we realized that Baloo was dying, and the wind turbine seemed a lot less important. It was a good lesson in priorities. And also a lesson in the need to make sure the tower one uses is strong enough to hold the turbine placed on top.

Don't let this happen to you.

So now, a few weeks later we're making the time to work on the turbine yet again. We ordered more blades (to the tune of $2,090 - eek!) and they're waiting to be installed. I'm not quite sure how the crew plans on taking down and putting up the whole thing again. But they'll think of something, and it will definitely be entertaining. I'll keep you updated!