The first Chinese-manufactured wind turbines in U.S.

The 1.5-megawatt wind turbines, recently installed on the Uilk Wind Farm, a 160-acre parcel of farm land west of Pipestone in wind power rich southwest Minnesota, are the first Chinese-manufactured renewable energy equipment to be installed in the United States.

The wind turbines were manufactured by Goldwind Science & Technology Ltd., which hopes to make further inroads in the U.S. wind turbine market. Uilk Wind Farm, located on land owned by Elroy and Bernard Uilk (pronounced “elk”), represents a cold-weather product test that for the Chinese firm.

Elroy Uilk said Friday that the direct-drive Goldwind turbines have been working nicely since they began operating Jan. 1. Direct-drive wind turbines differ from conventional turbines, which have oblong units that house a gearbox and generator.

The total cost of buying and installing all three Goldwind turbines was nearly $10 million, Uilk said. That tab was split between the Uilk brothers and an undisclosed number of other investors, Leroy Uilk said.

“We’re excited about the technology,” Elroy Uilk continued, adding that a project specialist considered several brands of wind turbines before Goldwind’s was chosen.

Power generated by the site is being purchased by Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc., according to Tom Hoen, a spokesman for the utility.

Goldwind has been active in contacting local wind energy developers, according to executives at several wind-development firms who declined to be identified.

Others said the direct-drive technology will be attractive to wind energy developers. “My take is that they will be a player,” Jeff Wright, president of Minneapolis-based Midwest Wind Energy Finance, said of Goldwind.

Wright characterized Goldwind’s technology as “a plus. You don’t need the generator.”

The direct-drive wind turbines are attractive to wind-energy developers because they have far fewer moving parts. And, while direct-drive turbines are more expensive, they generally require less down time for maintenance.

Many wind turbines feature a fluid-filled gearbox that can hinder the turbine’s performance during frigid winter conditions.

Turbines installed in cold climates require a cold weather package, according to Leon Steinberg, CEO of Minneapolis-based wind energy developer National Wind LLC.

Typically, such a package includes insulation and a heater, Steinberg said. Lack of those features could well have contributed to the freeze-up of 11 used wind turbines that delivered to Rochester-based Minnesota Municipal Power Agency from California, he said.

Steinberg said Goldwind, the largest wind-turbine manufacturer in China, could be one of several wind turbine manufacturers targeted by a group of developers and other interested parties that is seeking to attract a wind turbine manufacturer to Minnesota.

The state’s wind-energy production, its proximity to wind-rich North and South Dakota and its population of skilled workers make Minnesota a good site for wind turbine manufacturing, he said.

Minnesota’s dearth of major turbine manufacturing facilities contrasts with Iowa, whose governor, Democrat Chet Culver, has successfully attracted several wind turbine manufacturers to the Hawk Eye State – and outpaced Minnesota by more than doubling the state’s wind-power generation to rank No. 2 in the nation, behind only Texas.

Several wind-turbine manufacturers are candidates to be attracted by the group of wind farm developers and interested parties, Steinberg said. He declined to identify the manufacturers being sought, but said Goldwind is a “viable candidate.”

by Bob Geiger