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A Sign of Sustainable Energy


If your commute takes you over the Hoan Bridge – between downtown Milwaukee and Bay View - you have surely spotted a gleaming white turbine take shape.

It should go “on line” Monday.

Federal stimulus money – along with state and local grants funded the $600,000 project.

Its owner - the City of Milwaukee – wants not only to power the Port of Milwaukee building, but also showcase the city’s commitment to renewable energy.

WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence donned a hard hat to talk with workers during the final construction phase.

Electrician Troy Wenzel – a mountain of a man – jumped into the renewable energy business eight years ago.

Right now. Wenzel is on his knees behind the Port administration building, screwing lugs into a transformer box.

“We’re hooking up the transformer from the wind tower to step it down to the voltage of the feed of the building, the service feed,” Wenzel says.

“So in this case, the turbine will go directly into powering this facility,” I ask.

“Correct. A good share of it will be used up here, but some of it will be put back on to the grid,” Wenzel says.

That means the turbine will produce more than enough electricity to power the building.

“You need a hard hat, otherwise I can’t let you in here.”

Felando Davis meets me at the gate guarding the turbine construction zone.

You cannot see the work the Milwaukee native has already done, because it’s underground.

His company tunneled a pathway for the cable - and without lifting a shovel. Davis’ is a hydrovac business – he describes it as a big truck with a hose.

“It has a 2,000 gallon tank on there and then we use a hose with high pressure and then vac it up at the same time. We bore a cable running from where the tower is all the way to the back of the building,” Davis says.

Although the turbine’s blades still stand wrapped on the ground, Davis can’t seem to stop gazing up at the tip of the tower.

“It’s a big deal because twenty near from now my children and grandchildren can ride down the freeway, I can say your grandfather had something to do with that, and your great grandfather, because I work for my father, this is my father’s company,” Davis says..

Steve Wenger emerges from what looks like a cockpit door at the tower’s base.

“We just lowered, well that thick black cable coming down, we’re just lowering the power cables and control cables,” Wenger says.

That day, the wind becomes too stiff to safely raise the blades; but the next morning, as soon as there is light in the sky, a crane hoists the three blades, each 35 feet long.

Under construction

Randy Faller stands below watching two of his workers up top.

He owns Kettle View Renewable Energy, the company hired to install the Port turbine.

“We have 20 bolts holding the rotor hub on up there and there and they’re torquing those bolts down right now by hand, that’s about the only way to do that up there,” Faller says.

Faller says his crew installs more and more of these mid-sized turbines.

“One of the most exciting parts about this project is that this tower was made by Bassett Mechanical is Kaukauna, Wisconsin. and it’s really the first tower made in Wisconsin, so it’s pretty exciting, the turbine itself.....” Faller says.

....traveled cross country from its manufacturer in Vermont, but Faller quickly adds.

"They obtain a lot of their supply casting for the turbine itself from companies in Green Bay, in Waukesha and Milwaukee,” Faller says.

Mike Hoehn works for the Vermont based company. He’s inside the tower and midway through a checklist.

You’re testing the brakes to makes sure that they are fully functional; you test the yaw system to make sure it’s tracking the wind, all that good stuff, and now we’re going to do a bunch of spin tests,” Hoehn says.

After today, Mike does not expect to see much of this turbine.

The sophisticated system is hooked up to software. It allows engineers to monitor and make adjustments from company headquarters in Vermont.

“We have engineers that do 24-hour monitoring of these turbines; so let’s say if this would fault; they have the same software that I have on my computer; they can do the same exact things remotely,” Hoehn says.

Randy Faller, the local project coordinator, says there’s no better turbine manufacturing company around, but is confident Wisconsin could reach the same level of excellence.

“It’d be nice to see some of the small system blades like this being made in Wisconsin and it is possible,” Faller says.

Faller hopes erecting a few more of these mid-size turbines will help sell the idea.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.