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Tacoma Power's First Wind Installation, Wind Powered Antenna Station

image credit: This is a photo of Tacoma Power's first Wind Turbine

From June 24th to September 20th of 2019 I was given the privilege of interning with Tacoma Power. There were several projects I was given during my time in the utility but the largest one I worked on was installing a small wind turbine for powering a remote telecom station. The image below, is the wind turbine fully installed.

The telecom station was in the very remote wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula, and thus the station had to be powered on site. For quite a while the site was solely powered by solar panels but almost every year, there would be significant snowfall on site and thus the generation of electricity by the solar panels was hindered. After some research into the site, some of the engineers at Generation Department realized the area had a notable exposure to strong winds.

By the time I arrived in June, one of the senior engineers, Mr. Hoffman, had begun to research the ideal wind turbine for the project. We spoke to several wind turbine vendors and began to notice a pattern. The market for small wind turbines under a kilowatt of capacity is very small and dominated by commercial devices for everyday people with very low wind loads. Mr. Hoffman and I discovered very quickly that an industrial grade wind turbine was needed for this application.

In the first week of the project, we spoke with a structural engineer that worked in our department, Mr. Nordstrom. Using handbooks published by the America Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), he calculated that the site could be exposed to rated gusts of 110 mph. Thus the wind turbine we needed had to be able to withstand the winds of the site. For safety reasons, Mr. Nordstrom also explained to us that we had to receive his approval on the final overall design of the installation. Throughout the project we would communicate with him about the progress of the project.

Thankfully a breakthrough came when we came across a vendor based in Alaska that sold wind turbines specifically for remote micro-grids and were rated for harsh wind conditions. One of the wind turbines distributed by the vendor that stood out to us the most was a brand of wind turbines manufactured in Great Britain. We began requesting quotes from the British manufacturer on one of their turbines. In addition, we asked for more information about a controller they sold that offered several features such as displaying the current generated by the wind turbine.

With the wind turbine selected, the next challenge on the list was how to properly install it. Mr. Hoffman suggested that a marine staff design would be the most appropriate. Basically the turbine would be mounted on a short staff, and be supported by steel bracing pipes. The bracing pipes and mounting staff would all be tethered to steel poles firmly grounded.

During every step of the project, I communicated constantly with Mr. Hoffman, Mr. Nordstrom, and several drafting technicians to ensure utility and federal standards were met. I learned very quickly how important communication is in the engineering world. Proper documentation not only matters to all the members of the team working on the project in the moment, but also future team members that you might not even meet. Engineers will need up-to-date information in order to provide proper maintenance on the system you worked on years ago. Accountants will also need to verify the proper cost of the project.

Finally, in the second to last week of my internship, the wind turbine was installed. It took only a few days, and each day, one of the electrical engineers of the project had to be on site to oversee the electricians and workers. Mr. Hoffman could not be present both days so I was given the task of being present the whole construction period, and I greatly enjoyed it.

Robert Sanborn's picture

Thank Robert for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 4, 2019 12:55 pm GMT

This sounds like such a great hands-on experience to kick off a career in energy, I'm a bit jealous!

What was the approximate power needs of the antenna power station and the capacity of the wind turbine you selected?

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