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Testa Talks Turbine: Checking In On The South Side's Wind Turbine

By JoshMogerman in News on Aug 25, 2012 8:00PM

Last spring a striking new structure was added to city’s skyline. No, not a flashy new building, but the still-jarring sight of a massive wind turbine rising from the South Side is just as eye grabbing. As distinct as any piece of architecture downtown, Testa Produce has built the first LEED Platinum food distribution facility in the nation amidst the brownfields and industrial morass that used to be the old Union Stock Yards. Sure, the massive barreled green roof, solar panels springing like weeds and electric charging stations scattered across the campus are impressive, but it’s the towering turbine that makes a statement seen across a big swath of town. More than a year after it started spinning, we still cannot take our eyes off the thing. So we figured it was time to check in with the folks at Testa to find out how things are going with their 250-foot twirler. Angela Bader, who is the unofficial Testa turbine ambassador, filled us in:

Chicagoist: Between riding the CTA Green Line and driving on the expressways, we see that turbine pretty much daily. It seems to be twirling most of the time. How is it performing? Is it really generating 30% of the facility's power?
Bader: [The turbine] is generating an average of 30% of our energy needs but there have been approximately 15 days that the turbine has generated more energy in a single day than we used that day! Which made us essentially 100% self-sufficient those days.

Chicagoist: Have you had any problems with it you were not expecting? Outages, ice in the winter, etc.?
Bader: We experienced a few building-wide energy surges—the turbine would be generating so much that it would cause a surge throughout the building and our lights would flicker! More of an annoyance than anything, really. Its all running pretty smoothly now.

Chicagoist: On the days that the turbine produces more energy than you use...what happens?
Bader: If it's not used, we sell [the electricity generated] back to ComEd, to put into the grid.

Chicagoist: While the decision to build it was not entirely an economic one, does it seem like the numbers will eventually work out?
Bader: The turbine will pay for itself in approximately 10 years. And for a 100-year old company, that’s no time at all.

Chicagoist: And all that solar stuff?
Bader: The [building’s solar is kicking in] about 10% of our energy. We have [photovoltaic] panels that generate energy for the building, solar hot water tubular system that heats our water, and the solar trees in front are equipped to generate the energy that will be used to charge the 2 new electric delivery trucks that we will be implementing into our fleet in the next month or so!

Chicagoist: Do you ever stand below the turbine? We did it and found the experience of having a nearly silent, 70-foot blade swinging down towards us downright unsettling.
Bader: If you're not one of our hybrid drivers that gets the preferred parking right by the entrance, you find yourself having to pass under it every now and then. It can be eerie.

If you want to brave the blades, Testa Produce is located at 4555 S. Racine Avenue.