MERRILLVILLE | A 160-foot-tall wind turbine at a local electrical union can generate enough electricity to power 15 homes.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697 has been building a 100-kilowatt turbine on its new environmentally-friendly campus at 7200 Mississippi St., near the Hobart border. The turbine – which is about a third as big as the turbines in the Meadow Lake Wind Farm off Interstate 65 near Brookston – will go online this week.
"We're embracing this future technology," said Ryan Reithel, business representative for the union.
Local union building trades and apprentices – including electricians, ironworkers, carpenters, and cement masons – have spent the last few weeks constructing a turbine that will be used as a working model for training, maintenance and tower rescue. The laborers gained experience the union hopes will come in handy in the future, since they expect wind towers will become a more prevalent part of the landscape in the future.
"There will be job opportunities to build turbines when these projects come to the area," Reithel said. "They will already have this work on their resume."
Union members already have been training on the 21.5-kilowatt solar panels on the roof of the building, which has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification, which is like a Good Housekeeping Seal for sustainability. They maintain the panels, and earn certifications in the process.
"We call it our third-floor, open-air solar classroom," he said.
Together, the solar panels and the wind turbine will generate about 30 percent of the electricity needed to power the building, said Joseph Pfister, a training instructor. The IBEW sends the power generated on its site to NIPSCO, which extends a credit.
Local 697 expects to save enough on its energy bills over 20 years to fully pay for the $400,000 cost of installing the wind turbine, which was built entirely with American-made steel.
"We're trying to take advantage of a renewable resource, but we also want to be at the cutting edge of construction and energy production," Pfister said.
Previous pushes toward green energy have fallen by the wayside, but the technology has advanced to the point where wind, solar and other alternative energy sources are cost-effective, Pfister said. Concern over the environment also has grown, and gotten more people thinking about green power.
"There's a little more concern about pollution, and using up all the fossil fuels, which are limited resources," Pfister said. "It's a marketing tool in addition to being a training tool, because it says let's be friendly to the environment."
Energy giant BP said in its recently released Energy Outlook 2035 that renewables such as wind power are expected to be the fastest-growing class of energy, and to rise by an average of 6.4 percent a year over the next two decades.
Their share of global electricity production is expected to grow from a small base of 5 percent to a 14 percent market share in 2035, at which time they would surpass nuclear power as a source of primary electricity production.