Utility wind project O&M

Operation and maintenance options for utility-owned projects

Utilities that have chosen to own and operate wind projects themselves assume responsibility for operating and maintaining the facility as well. Most utility owners of wind projects opt for one of three scenarios for maintaining their fleet of turbines: contract with an independent service provider; provide all O&M services with utility staff; or engage in a hybrid of the first two.

Independent service providers

Many utilities choose to tap into the extensive expertise and experience that many independent service providers (ISP) have gained from operating other wind projects. In addition, the ISP may have access to a pool of replacement parts, the ability to leverage bulk purchases to secure materials at discounted rates and a relationship with firms that provide specialized services.

Wind project operators must make judgments about the timing and sequence of both operational and maintenance services. The motivation behind scheduling O&M may vary by type of operator. Contracts with ISPs may provide performance bonuses that inadvertently lead to maximizing production over interrupting operation to perform service. From a utility perspective, the contract for O&M services becomes an expense that is ultimately shifted to the utility customers.

Utility-staffed operations

Other utilities have weighed the options and decided to build up the expertise to operate their own wind projects among their own staff – or perhaps hire employees with expertise gained in the wind industry. hose utilities may prefer to internalize operation as they may do with their internal operation of conventional power plants, which in many instances entail similar skills. They know that once their technicians become proficient in wind plant operation, they will retain that expertise in-house which they can then use for additional wind projects. Utilities with internal operations also cite better ability to meet performance forecasts, ability to control capitol and O&M budgets, and coordination with the regional Independent System Operator.

Hybrid operations

The most cost effective option for some utilities has become a hybrid blend of the other two options – performing daily routine operations of the wind plant with internal staff, but relying on industry experts to handle more major repairs and component replacement. Many utilities leverage this model with the operation of their conventional power plants. Utility-employed professionals develop day-to-day operating skills, which can enable them to better oversee the more major maintenance and repair services by others.

Other utility O&M resources in AWEA

The AWEA Operations & Maintenance Working Group, open to any AWEA member, provides a forum for sharing and developing preferred methods of managing wind farms. Participation is available to any AWEA member. The AWEA Operation & Maintenance Recommended Practices was released by the O&M Working Group at the AWEA WINDPOWER 2013 Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

AWEA also hosts one of the major annual wind power O&M conferences in the nation. The AWEA Wind Project O&M and Safety Seminar will be held January 15-16, 2014, in San Diego, CA. Leading edge strategies to improve wind plant operations and provide maintenance services more effectively will be discussed at the seminar.