What’s the Wind Turbine South of Downtown Milwaukee Powering?

Feb 11, 2018

Like many Milwaukeans, Deb Schampers of Bay View has driven past the wind turbine just south of the Hoan Bridge countless times. For years, she’s been wondering about it: Why is it there? Why only one? Who benefits?

Just for fun, during her daily commutes, Deb made up her own answers -- “It was possibly helping us make Milorganite for the world... It’s heating the ovens at DiMarini’s (a pizza place a half mile from the turbine.)”

Not satisfied with her made up stories, Deb reached out to WUWM’s Beats Me to learn more.

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The rotor being secured on to the Port of Milwaukee turbine in 2012.
Credit Susan Bence

To get to the bottom of her question, let's go back six years to February 2012 when Randy Faller was installing the turbine.

“One of the most exciting parts about this project was the tower was made by Bassett Mechanical in Kaukauana, Wisconsin,” Randy of Random Lake explains.

And, while the turbine company is based in Vermont, a dozen Wisconsin companies had a hand in the project – from manufacturing component to testing. For example, in Waukesha, a family business named Thermtech heat-treated the shaft that connects the turbine’s three gigantic blades to the generator.

Darrin Kyle at Thermtech in the midst of the heat-treating process in Waukesha.
Credit Susan Bence

Back at turbine central, inside the Port Administration Building, harbor engineer Larry Sullivan doesn’t have to worry about the shaft or any other turbine part in particular.

The wind turbine's monitoring software.
Credit Susan Bence

The system is hooked up to software that allows Larry to monitor the turbine’s performance with a mere click on a computer keyboard. “It’s telling us the wind speed is 5.3 and it’s generating about 25 kilowatts at the moment,” he explains.

The Vermont turbine company keeps tabs it on remotely. And here in Wisconsin, Randy Faller, the guy who installed the turbine, gives it annual check ups.

An aerial view of Port Milwaukee's administration building.
Credit City of Milwaukee

The turbine produces enough energy to power the two-story, port building – a $11,000 a year value. Any extra is sold back to the local utility, We Energies.

Erick Shambarger with the City of Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office admits it took time to convince people the turbine was a good idea.

Question asker Deb Schampers wondered if Milwaukee has plans to install another turbine.

Erick says no.  

Credit Susan Bence

Not only would it be difficult to find another site in Milwaukee's urban landscape, the port project cost $600,000 and was financed largely by a special fund, the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.  The aim was  to spur renewable energy project and jobs. That opportunity isn’t likely to repeat itself, he says, at least not in the foreseeable future.

So Erick says the City of Milwaukee has its eye on installing solar.

“Right now, the city - on its buildings - spends about $4 million on energy, we spend several more millions on our water works and then for street lights," he explains. "So we have a fair amount of money we are spending on our energy bills. And that’s why we are working through the details of how we can finance and install solar on our city buildings.” 

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