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Wind turbines don't operate in cold

Jan 15, 2010 - Beth Wischmeyer - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Though wind turbines utilize North Dakota's plentiful gusts to generate energy, some agency officials say they are shut down in times of extreme temperature.

Daryl Hill, media relations supervisor with Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which has about 80 wind turbines south of Minot, said extreme cold can affect the turbines.

"If it gets real cold you have to shut them down," Hill said. "If the wind speed is over 55 miles an hour then they'll shut them down, too."

When the temperature gets too cold, a lot of flexibility within the turbines is lost and they become brittle, he added.

The cut-off temperature is 22 degrees below zero for shutting down the turbines.

"For a wind turbine to generate full capacity, the wind has to blow about 25 to 30 miles an hour," Hill said. "I think sometimes there's somewhat of a misnomer that says if the wind is blowing and the things are turning, that they are generating full capacity, and that's not the case."

There may be extenuating circumstances where turbines could operate in colder temperatures, but when there are extreme cold temperatures, there usually isn't much wind, Hill said.

Mark Hanson, spokesperson for Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., which is planning to go online with a 13-turbine wind farm near Rhame in the second quarter of this year, said anything beyond 104 degrees is also hard on the equipment.

According to information provided by the North Dakota Department of Commerce Division of Community Service, around the southwest part of the state there are two farms comprised of about 54 turbines near Center, two turbines at the Sacred Heart Monastery near Richardton and two farms comprised of about 66 turbines near Wilton.

Sister Paula Larson of Sacred Heart Monastery said the monastery has used the wind turbines for their own electrical generating use for about 13 years, which at times can provide 100 percent of the electricity they need.

The turbines provide about 0.13 megawatts of power, according to NDDC information.

"They really help out," Larson said.

She said the monastery doesn't shut them down in the extreme cold, but will when there is a severe storm in the summer.