GE operations center unveiled

General Electric on Monday showed off the $45 million facility on its Schenectady campus that will b

General Electric on Monday showed off the $45 million facility on its Schenectady campus that will be central to the company’s plans to develop its wind turbine business.

The state-of-the-art operations center monitors 13,500 GE wind turbines scattered across the world, with the capacity to monitor thousands more. It employs 650 people — engineers, technicians and support personnel — and serves as headquarters for GE’s renewable energy business.

GE has invested nearly $1 billion in developing renewable energy technologies since entering the market in 2002, and its wind turbines comprise half of all wind turbines installed in the United States. It also has wind turbines in 11 other countries, generating 20 gigawatts of energy.

“The Schenectady site represents an important symbol of the rapid growth of success of our renewable energy business, particularly in the wind sector,” said Victor Abate, vice president of renewable energy for GE Power & Water.

The company expects to reap more than $6 billion from the wind turbine business this year, up from $200 million in 2002 when 425 turbines were in operation.

The operations center is located in Building 53, a former gas turbine manufacturing facility. The company spent $39 million of its own money and $5 million from the state to renovate the 101-year-old building. Schenectady County and the city of Schenectady provided tax abatements of approximately $825,000 each to GE over a period of 10 years. The city also agreed to provide $2 million in sales tax savings on investments for building materials, furniture and fixtures.

The renovation converted a five-story, industrial-looking concrete building into a streamlined, glass-faced facility that meets federal Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

Robert Wall, a member of the Metroplex Development Authority and a retired GE worker, was amazed by the renovation of Building 53. “I would not recognize the place for a second,” he said.

Bradley Lewis, vice chairman of Metroplex and a professor of economics at Union College, said the renovation served two purposes: It made the building functional for its new role and it created an environment conducive to attracting a talented work force.

“There is intense competition for good people. Amenities are important in the work environment. The building is an example of where they are trying to pull in the best,” Lewis said.

The heart of the facility is its operations center, where employees monitor far-flung wind turbines from computer stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each employee is responsible for some 750 wind turbines. Generally, an employee can troubleshoot a turbine problem from the work station. For more complex problems, “we can pull in 150 engineers here to diagnose it,” Abate said. In some cases, GE sends in mobile engineers to the site, which are often remote locations, to fix problems.

The center processes reams of information, ranging from wind velocity to weather patterns. “A big part of the industry is predicting the winds,” Abate said.

A turbine requires a minimum wind of 8 mph to turn one of its massive blades. Blades are as long a football fields.

Abate said a wind farm, consisting of dozens of wind turbines, can generate 750 megawatts of energy. A nuclear plant, by contrast, generates 1,000-MW, Abate said.

In building the center, GE made a commitment to state and local officials to create at least 500 jobs by 2011. GE met the goal early.

Before the center was built, GE monitored wind turbines from the farm sites themselves.

Categories: Schenectady County

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