DACC gets real deal for wind turbine program

DANVILLE — Starting this year, students in Danville Area Community College's wind-energy-technician program will have a state-of-the-art learning tool that will take them inside the "guts" of a wind turbine.

It's not a nacelle simulator; It's the real deal.

Movers delivered a 51-ton wind-turbine nacelle Tuesday to the college and placed it in the parking lot north of the Harry J. Braun Technology Center. It will stay there until it can be placed at a permanent location north of the program's wind-turbine blade.

"This is a dream come true," Bruce Rape, dean of DACC's Business and Technology Division, said as he watched a crew from Custom Service Crane Inc. lift the nacelle off an extra-long semitrailer and set it on the lot that afternoon.

The nacelle, which sits at the top of the tower, is roughly 28 feet long, 11 feet wide and 12 feet tall. It houses the key components of the turbine, including the generator, gearbox and brake assembly.

Rape said program officials have been trying to get one to give students hands-on training experience since the two-year associate-degree program launched four years ago.

"We had a line on one a few times, but those never materialized," he said. "Sometimes, you have to be at the right place at the right time."

Fortunately for DACC, the program's curriculum coordinator, Josh DeVors, was. About six months ago, he ran across a website where an insurance company was trying to sell a new Nordic Wind Power nacelle that had been delivered to a wind farm but never used. The wind-farm company wouldn't accept the equipment because it had been dropped 3 or 4 feet.

"It had been sitting on an impound in Kansas City, Mo., for about a year. The insurance company was trying to get as much money as possible for it. They weren't getting many takers," Rape said, adding that they were asking about $30,000 when DeVors first saw it.

When the price dropped to $25,000, DACC offered $20,000, and the insurance company accepted, Rape said. It cost another $20,000 to have it delivered and unloaded.

That's a bargain considering the nacelle costs $875,000, said Dave Kietzmann, vice president of instruction and student services.

And "it never went into service, so it's brand new," Rape said. Before DACC made an offer, instructor Greg Hansbraugh inspected the nacelle to make sure it hadn't been stripped of parts or damaged. "It was basically 100 percent intact."

Now Rape is working with an engineering firm to determine how to place the nacelle permanently.

"We're hoping we'll be able to elevate it so we can access it from the bottom and the top," he said, explaining that the structure has a hatch at the bottom to access the interior from the tower.

Close to 100 students have been through the program, Rape said. The first couple of years, it had about 25 or 26 students, but then it averaged around 10 to 12. Enrollment is expected to be 10 to 12 this fall, too.

Students currently use a nacelle simulator, which is about the size of a large office desk, Rape said. The real nacelle will be invaluable to their training and give them an edge when competing for the high-paying, high-demand jobs.

"They're going to be able to actually work inside a nacelle. There's nothing like being inside, touching it, getting a feel for it," he said. "You can't simulate the real thing. They can actually do maintenance, lubrication. They can take things off, put things on."

He also hopes the strange-looking white structure will attract the attention of students and visitors — and possibly passers-by on Main Street — and pique their interest about the program.

"It's going to be a beacon," he said.

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