You won’t find a Qwik Lube on Fire Island. When you need an oil change at CIRI’s wind energy project just off the coast of Anchorage, you have to call a pro and charter a plane. Then you need a climbing harness. And a winch system to lift the oil 262 feet off the ground. Get the picture? It’s not easy changing the oil in wind turbines.
“Anything that requires getting supplies to the island takes time, and you have to think it through,” said Suzanne Gibson, senior director of Energy Development at CIRI. “We have to get the oil over to the island and then get the drums loaded on a truck and dropped off at each turbine so when the contractor arrives on the island they’re ready to go, because time is money.”
CIRI contracted with workers from Techeol to accomplish the vital task of changing the gear oil in all 11 wind turbines at Fire Island in mid-June. Each turbine holds 90 gallons of oil. First, a detergent is added to the existing oil in preparation for the changeover. Next, all of the old oil has to be drained and lowered to the ground. Then a flushing fluid is hoisted up the turbine and injected to clean the used oil out of the gearbox and oil cooler. Step four, drain the flushing fluid. Finally, the new oil is lifted and poured into the turbines. Each step of the process is crucial.
“We call it the bucket brigade methodology,” Gibson said. “In the Lower
48, they would have a pump and run a hose from the top of the turbine down to the ground and feed it all through there. But at Fire Island we can’t do that so we have to raise these buckets over and over again both to get the oil up and to get the oil down. And then we have to transport [used oil] back to Anchorage to properly dispose of it.”
The undertaking is logistically challenging and costly. But it needs to be done. The cost of the oil change process is miniscule when compared to the cost of replacing a broken gear box if the oil failed to do its job.
It took about two weeks, but the crew successfully performed the oil change in all 11 turbines. The new oil is expected to last six to seven years before it needs replacing.