by Jill Vermeulen, communication studies and theater major
The first use of wind energy feuled ancient sailors on their voyages, while some of the first windmills were created to pump water and grind grain in Persia some 1,500 years ago. America’s first electric-generating wind turbine was built in 1888. Today, wind energy produces power for approximately 24 million American households per year, with approximately 52,000 wind turbines nationwide. Wind turbine service technicians are the fastest growing occupation in the country, with a 108 percent job growth rate.
As a young man, the direction of Jesse Tarr’s career came into focus on his trips between his downstate home and Northern Michigan University, as he passed two wind turbines at the south end of the Mackinac Bridge. Those trips helped to inspire his interest in the wind energy industry and eventually led him to establish his own business.
After graduating from NMU in 2006, Tarr got a job building wind turbines. During the construction process, he noticed corrosion on the foundation of the turbines, which he considers his “aha moment.” He then founded Wind Secure, a business focused on protecting turbine foundations from the stresses they endure during operations.
“Taking care of wind turbines’ foundations is critical to maintaining the rest of the structure,” said Tarr. “Through my patented process, we’re unlocking data from within the foundations about their structural health. Knowing the tension of the anchor bolts is great information for evaluating and understanding the effect of fatigue cycles on your foundations. The wind turbine owners are finding this information valuable, especially as projects age.”
Tarr believes that the wind turbine industry will succeed because of the growing demand for clean power worldwide.
“I see endless potential for this industry,” said Tarr. “I think we are barely in our infancy as an industry. I’m reluctant to set specific goals in my business because I don’t want to limit our potential. Our goal is to continually grow. I’m unsure what that ultimately means. Wind keeps growing. Even in the face of record low fossil fuel prices, wind has seen incredible growth. With the cost of wind energy continuing to drop as technology and competition spur innovation, I see my business growth outpacing the industry as the foundations continue to age and people continue to neglect them.”
Resonating with NMU’s environmental core value, Tarr said that both NMU and wind energy represent freedom.
“NMU has beautiful land and water around it,” said Tarr. “I feel free in the U.P. – you can run around outside, play in the woods and swim in the water. You can’t do that at a lot of other universities. Likewise, when we are out on site working, it’s wild out there. Most of the time we are in rural places. It’s an awesome experience when the wind is blowing really hard and you’re on site, feeling the wind’s power, watching wind turbines capture its power.”
Tarr was recently profiled as one of “30 in Their Thirties” by DBusiness, Detroit’s business journal. He has written best practices for turbine foundation maintenance for the American Wind Energy Association and he chairs AWEA’s operations and maintenance working group. In addition to his foundation maintenance and repair work, Tarr’s business is venturing up tower to keep all the blades and connections tight, so the wind turbines will continue to fascinate and spur the dreams of young people passing by for years to come.