By CHRIS EVERSOLE
Just 10 miles west of Mustang, a string of statuesque turbines begins – stretching for 11 miles on hilltops across a craggy landscape.
The 188 turbines capture the Oklahoma wind and convert it into electricity.
The turbines make up the Minco I, Minco II and Minco III wind farms, installations that opened between 2010 and 2012.
The owner, NextEra Energy Resources, has proposed adding two more projects in the area.
In addition, EDP Renewables North America LLC operates the Redbed Plains Wind Farm nearby, which has 48 turbines.
The NextEra Minco area turbines generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes, and EDP Renewables’ project produces enough power more than 23,000 homes, company spokesmen said.
The companies lease rights for the turbine, supplementing property owners’ income from wheat and cattle.
Cattle benefit too. “They like to use the shade from the turbines,” NextEra’s wind site manager Luke Lutonsky said.
In NextEra Energy Resources’ project, a crew of 14 men and two women faces the challenge of climbing ladders inside the towers to 300 feet – making repairs and performing routine maintenance, including doing oil changes, on the General Electric turbines.
When the turbines first went into operation, workers relied solely on their own power making the climb with their 30 pounds of gear, Lutonsky said.
In recent years, NextEra Energy Resources has installed a pulley and cable “lift assist” system that carries 60 to 70 percent of a worker’s weight.
Unlike Don Quixote, who flailed at windmills in the Spanish novel that bears his name, the workers proceed carefully, always mindful of maintaining their safety.
“We’re very safety oriented,” Lutonsky said.
The turbines can generate power with winds of 7 miles per hour. They reach peak performance with wind of 25 miles per hour, and they shut down when the wind exceeds 55 miles per hour.
The blades rotate to maximize output.
The wind is typically stronger the higher in elevation you go, so it’s generally sufficient for generation.
NextEra’s Fleet Performance Diagnostic Center in Juno Beach, Florida, monitors all of the company’s turbines around the clock. “There are lots of moving parts,” Lutonsky said.
“When a repair is needed, we generally know the parts we need because of the diagnostics. It’s a valuable use of technology that helps us make sure all the turbines in our fleet are operating efficiently,” he said.
The generated power travels through lines to the substation control center, located midway in the Minco wind turbines.
The power is transferred to an Oklahoma Gas and Electric transfer station, and the power company’s lines carry it from there.
Although OG&E transmits the power, customers include the Public Service Company of Oklahoma and Google, which has a data center in Mayes County that uses all renewable energy.
The Minco wind farms contribute to Oklahoma’s wind power production, which last year made up about one-third of the state’s electric generation.
“Last year, the wind resource was pretty good,” Lutonsky said.
The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics recently listed “wind technician” as one of the fastest growing jobs in America. It quotes the average pay of the job at more than $50,000 annually.
The pay is attractive enough that some workers travel an hour or more from the Oklahoma City metro to work.
Lutonsky, himself, drives 40 minutes from Cyril to work.
Lutonsky has worked at the Minco Wind Energy Center for seven years.
“I would never consider another career,” he said.
“Not only do I enjoy what I do, but also working there provides me and my family with the financial stability to relocate back to Cyril and the security of knowing that I will not endure the job fluctuations that occur in some other industries.
“It’s a good feeling knowing I’m helping to generate clean, affordable, home-grown energy for Oklahoma.”