A first-of-its kind wind- and solar-powered traffic signal warning drivers in a school crossing zone on 32nd Street West has gone operational just in time for school.
A vertical-bladed wind turbine and a solar panel are installed atop a steel pole power the signal at 32nd Street West and Canyon Drive.
Louise Carrier, who works as a crossing guard for School District 2, said Thursday that drivers are paying attention to the signal’s flashing light. But without fail drivers stop whenever Carrier, dressed in a reflective vest, steps into the crosswalk and holds a stop sign aloft.
Dave Mumford, director of public works for the city of Billings, described the wind and solar hybrid system as a “belt and suspenders” approach to operating the signal.
The turbine blades didn’t budge on a dead calm afternoon in which temperatures soared into the 90s. But a square solar panel, angled toward the sun, generated plenty of power.
The city purchased the $15,000 signal from Taisei Techno America Inc., which plans to manufacture the traffic signals and other equipment at a new manufacturing plant in Billings.
The traffic signal doesn’t use a lot of electricity, but the city hopes to realize savings through reduced maintenance costs. The new signal has efficient and long-lasting LED lights, Mumford said.
The new signal on 32nd Street West is a pilot project to determine the benefits of using solar and wind technology in place of underground wiring. The combined wind and solar system is designed to generate enough electricity without connecting the signal to the electrical grid, Taisei officals said.
The solar panel generates a larger share of the signal's electrical power during the summer, when winds are relatively calm. The wind turbine will generate more power during the winter months, when the days are shorter, said Masahiro Sano, Taisei's senior adviser.
Taisei Techno, based in Osaka, Japan, is working to expand its wind power division in the United States. Three years ago, Taisei Techno selected City College, formerly the College of Technology at Montana State University Billings, as the site to test its 42-foot, 10-kilowatt wind turbine.
Rhyno Stinchfield of Billings, chief executive of GreenWorld Partners, Taisei Techno’s agent in North America, said the company has already invested around $1 million in Billings.
Sano said the company could hire from 30 to 50 employees at its Billings operation over the next couple of years, depending on the level of business it gets.
Muneyosshi Shibagaki, Taisei's chief executive, said the Billings operation will be key to the company’s success in the United States.
“What an exciting technology they bring,” said John Rogers, who leads the Governor’s Office on Economic Development. “This is something that we all know we need to do. The best part is that they manufacture them right here in Billings.”