Wind Giants and Solar Reflections Outing

By: Bill Davies

The Eagle View Group held a very informative tour of the Renewable Energy Facility in Geneseo, Illinois, on Sept 18th with more than 20 people attending. The tour was
conducted by Lewis Opsal, City of Geneseo Director of Electrical Operations.

The city of Geneseo, (http://cityofgeneseo.com/electric-utility) population about 6500, has operated a city owned electric utility since the 1930s for its residents and businesses.  Looking to a renewable energy future, in 2009 Geneseo installed and began operation of their first wind turbine, with a second turbine following shortly.  The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation helped fund the $5 million wind turbine project with a grant of $1.384 million.  The City borrowed the remainder and expects a 20 year payback through normal billing of it’s customers at competitive electric rates. The city began realizing a positive cash flow from the turbines within two years of the start of operation.

The two wind turbines produce a combined 7000 megawatts per year.  The turbines were made in Germany and were among the first installed in the US to use direct drive generators without gear boxes, so they have few moving parts, no need for many gallons of lubrication oil, and reduced maintenance compared to other designs.  The participants on the tour were able the enter the base of one of the turbines to see the inverter system that converts the direct current from the generator at the top of the tower to alternating current for use by the city.

Ever wonder what is under the base of a turbine to keep it standing?  These turbines have a 50 foot circle that is 11 feet deep with more than 400 tons of concrete and 400 tons of reinforcing bar.

Geneseo then decided to develop more renewable energy capacity by installing a five acre solar field in 2015.  The field has 4,228 solar panels, all made in Rockford, IL.  The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation again gave the city a grant, this time for $1 million toward the $2.5M project.  The city borrowed the balance, to be paid back by normal billing of customers.  The panels face south at a 30 degree angle and last year generated 1781 megawatts of direct current.  The solar field also has a number of inverters to convert the direct current from the panels to alternating current for use by the city customers.  The way the solar field is designed, if panels or an inverter stops functioning for any reason, the rest of the solar array will continue to function.

The wind turbines and solar field in the Geneseo Renewable Energy Facility generate about 13% of the city’s electricity needs, and the city is planning to install more solar panels in the future.

Great thanks to Jerry Neff, Eagle View Outings Chair, for arranging this exciting tour, and to Lewis Opsal, Director of Electrical Operations, for his very informative presentation.  Geneseo is to be commended for the actions it has taken toward a clean renewable energy future.

Photo credit: Bill Davies

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