Cohocton Wind Watch: December 2008
Cohocton Wind Watch is a community citizen organization dedicated to preserve the public safety, property values, economic viability, environmental integrity and quality of life in Cohocton, NY and in surrounding townships. Neighbors committed to public service in order to achieve a reasonable vision for a Finger Lakes region worthy of future generations.


READ about the FIRST WIND Connection to the Obama Administration

Industrial Wind and the Wall Street Cap and Trade Fraud




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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Naples: Don’t get too close with those windmills

The Town Board says wind turbines planned for neighboring Prattsburgh come too close to the Naples town line.

Board members agreed this month to send a letter asking the state Public Service Commission to intervene and order a developer to move the towers further from town line.

“I think the board has made clear, we’re not against wind turbines, but we are against the improper siting of towers,” Supervisor Frank Duserick said.

This is not the first letter of protest the town has issued regarding the location of towers in neighboring townships. In July, the town appealed to the state Attorney General’s Office, arguing that Naples landowners’ property rights and safety are threatened by the placement of the towers. While a date has yet to be set, the Attorney General’s Office has expressed interest in meeting with the town.

At issue are turbines planned for Knapp Hill in Prattsburgh, part of the Ecogen project. Five turbines are scheduled to go up in the area, with the closest only 489 feet from Naples landowner John Servo’s property line. Servo is president of the group Advocates for Prattsburgh, which has opposed this project.

Technically, the setbacks meet project guidelines established for Ecogen through an environmental study headed up by the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency. But both Servo and the Naples Town Board say the setbacks are not enough.

The neighboring town of Cohocton passed a zoning law prohibiting the placement of turbines closer than 1,500 feet from a residence, a step that Duserick points out to the PSC as precedent that another town has acknowledged the undesirability of building within that range.

By placing turbines less than 500 feet from the Naples property line, Duserick and Servo argue that the project is creating “reverse zoning” that effectively limits Naples landowners from full use of their property for safety reasons.

“The safety zone is 1,500 feet,” Duserick later said. “There should be a 1,500 feet setback, and actually it’s not enough. That’s for the smaller turbines.”

At a hearing last month, the Steuben County IDA outlined Ecogen’s new plans to install larger 2.3-megawatt turbines instead of the originally planned 1.5-megawatt model, but Naples received no advance notice of the hearing.

The increase in the turbine size means that only 36 towers will be placed instead of the 53 originally planned, but the towers will be 26 feet taller to generate the increased output. Ecogen project manager Thomas Hagner said contrary to what some project critics have suggested, no new environmental study is required.

And despite the number of towers being scaled back, with the site earmarked a prime wind resource, the Knapp Hill towers are still planned. Technically, Ecogen is within its rights to do so, said Hagner.

“The turbines meet the permitting requirements of the government agency with jurisdiction on this issue,” he said.

For Duserick, frustration goes back to initial planning phases for the wind project, when the IDA notified the village but not the town of the impending development, leaving the town out of the loop in the environmental review process.

“It’s inappropriate and unethical to place towers so close to the town line without even talking to (us),” said Duserick. “I clearly question the ethics of what’s happening in Steuben County.”
In the letter to the PSC, the town also asks for setbacks of five miles from designated historic sites in Naples like the Memorial Town Hall, in order to protect the town’s scenic views and tourism trade.

The environmental review process for wind developments evaluates the visual impacts of turbines for a radius of 5 miles; for the Ecogen project, the determination recorded in the environmental impact statement is that there would not be “significant adverse impact for distant views (greater than approximately 2 miles).”

But there is some precedent in the PSC limiting turbines from being built in sites where they could be visually and economically detrimental.

Last year, the PSC required Jordanville Wind to eliminate 19 of the 68 turbines planned for its Herkimer County project, since they would be visible from the Glimmerglass Historic District. Though the district fell outside of the 5-mile radius, the PSC acknowledged the district as a “nationally significant” historic resource, and a key factor in a regional economic plan developed around heritage-based tourism.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wind power doesn't deliver the goods

Dear Editor,

For those of you who believe that renewable wind energy (industrial wind turbines) and new transmission lines are a sign of progress in clean renewable energy and that those of us complaining about being forced to live in the middle of it are impeding progress, please read on.

I read about the new Bruce to Milton Transmission Line last week and about some of the impact it will have with its construction. I find it appalling that those lines will affect 360 properties and that 30 families will be forced to accept an offer from a Hydro One-appointed appraiser or face having their land expropriated.

Are you, dear reader, one of the people paying that high of a price for what you claim is progress? Are you one of the people paying the price of living with a 400-foot industrial wind turbine parked nice and close to your house, along with all the health, noise, collapse and ice throw concerns that go along with it? You may escape those personal costs, but you are most definitely paying the financial cost of government subsidies to wind developers.

Wind power does not deliver the goods.

Despite the existence of 50,000 turbines worldwide, there is no evidence that windpower reduces CO2 emissions or dependence on other forms of energy. The whole idea of a so called environmentally friendly renewable energy source has simply become a highly subsidized destruction of our rural countryside.

Lorrie Gillis, Grey Highlands

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't sacrifice your quality of life

There is strong evidence to support the claim that wind turbines located within sight or sound of one's property cause that property to lose from 50 to 80 percent of its market value.

Although there have been public comments to the contrary from some Wyoming County elected officials, it is important to state that some of them have signed a land lease agreement with a wind turbine company. In spite of this conflict of interest, these town officials have neither resigned from public office nor recused themselves from issues related to wind energy companies.

Moreover, these town officials do not establish the market value of your property. Property values must ultimately be determined through professional appraisals and, if necessary, appeals. Meanwhile to confirm the obvious, ask a prospective buyer if they would still be interested in purchasing your home after learning that wind turbines will be constructed within the view shed of your property.

Wyoming County landowners who are planning to "escape" the future onslaught of wind farms must be advised that the marketing of potentially encumbered property requires full disclosure; the seller must notify the buyer of any impending change in the physical environment that impacts the property for sale.

Therefore, although there is some financial benefit to a few landowners who have signed lease agreements as well as some suggested by temporary town tax relief, the majority of property owners located within sight or sound of wind turbines will experience a significant devaluation of their property. A necessary re-assessment of such property must follow which will negatively and permanently affect town tax receipts. In addition to an obvious loss of property value, securing a bank loan on encumbered property, be it physical, visual or auditory, will be more difficult and, in some cases, impossible.

As well as their extreme negative impact on the visual and auditory environment, wind turbines are a potential hazard to drinking water sources by contamination through oil leaks from the turbine transformer. Such an incidence has already occurred in the Watertown area when 491 gallons of transformer oil spilled from a wind turbine and entered the aquifer. (Watertown News, Dec. 29, 2007).

(Editor's note: A Dec. 29, 2007, article in the Watertown Daily Times, "Mineral oil taints West Martinsburg well," reported that a July 4, 2007, transformer explosion at Maple Ridge Wind Farm apparently contaminated one residential well, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation saying neighboring wells were not affected.)

Beyond negative environmental impacts and property devaluation, wind turbines are an inefficient and more costly means of generating electricity. According to Professor T. Drennan at Hobart and William Smith College, the cost of wind power generated electricity is 6.37 cents per kilowatt hour compared with 5.57 cents per kwh for nuclear power sources and 4.94 cents per kwh for coal generated electricity. Since production of wind power generated electricity is less efficient and more costly than clean coal or nuclear powered systems, what will happen to our electric bills?

Hyperbole and global warming alarmists have given rise to a highly profitable wind energy industry that is destroying the natural beauty of Wyoming County and devaluing many homes and properties, while costing the American taxpayers an untold number of dollars. This is made possible by federal and state lawmakers who have introduced regulatory and tax schemes which benefit the wind turbine industry through subsidies, tax credits and accelerated depreciation allowances awarded to wind turbine companies. In this time of "bail out" mania, the taxpayers can ill afford to subsidize another inefficient industry.

For these reasons, it is extremely important for all concerned property owners in Wyoming County to be organized and vigilant, to attend and monitor local town board meetings, to demand transparency and accountability from your board members, to have your property professionally appraised and to retain counsel.

Do not sacrifice your quality of life and that of your children as well as your most important financial investment by remaining passive and silent.

Joe Zampogna, Ph.D.

Orangeville

Friday, December 19, 2008

An Industrial Wind Christmas

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Texas Wind Farms Paying People to Take Power

Wind power generators are willing to pay the state grid operator to take their output so that they can get federal tax credits. An inadequate transmission system is to blame. Or is it?

A power producer typically gets paid for the power it generates. In Texas, some wind energy generators are paying to have someone take power off their hands.

Because of intense competition, the way wind tax credits work, the location of the wind farms and the fact that the wind often blows at night, wind farms in Texas are generating power they can't sell. To get rid of it, they are paying the state's main grid operator to accept it. $40 a megawatt hour is roughly the going rate.

For the first half of this year, power producers, mostly wind farms, paid the grid operator to take electricity for nearly 20 percent of the time. It happened 33 percent of the time in March alone and nearly 10 percent in October, said Mike Giberson, an energy business instructor at the Texas Tech University. He recently wrote about this issue in his blog, Knowledge Problem.

The industry parlance for paying someone to take the electricity is "negative pricing." It happens mostly when power producers bid the selling prices in the negative territory because they can afford to pay someone to use the energy.

Why? Wind energy producers get money for generating renewable electricity, but to qualify for these federal tax credits, the generation must be purchased and fed to an electric grid. As long as the money paid to the grid operator to take excess or "unwanted" electricity is less than the federal tax credit, the wind producer can make a profit.

Texas's own state program also allows utilities and power producers to buy and sell renewable energy credits, which has increased the appeal of negative pricing.

With limited transmission capacity, power producers in various places have to compete more fiercely to sell their electricity. But in the Lone Star state, the competition has morphed into a phenomenon not seen in the rest of the country.

"In other places, you might see a few hours of negative pricing here and there, but you don't see days and days in a row," Giberson said. "There are some days in March and April when you have 14 hours of negative prices."

Negative pricing takes place when the grid is congested, prompting energy producers to bid fiercely to sell electricity to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the main electric grid operators in the state. ERCOT buys energy at various times throughout the day and night to make sure the grid has a cushion to deal with unexpected demand, such as a hurricane-rendered blackout or when power producers didn't generate enough juice.

On average, ERCOT needs to set aside 5 percent worth of anticipated energy demand at any time. It often buys more than 10 percent, especially during periods of peak demand. Power for the rest of the market, which serves 21 million customers, comes from long-term contracts between electricity producers and utilities.

When there isn't congestion in the transmission system, spot market prices from energy producers from the four regions in ERCOT's jurisdiction should be the same.

That changes when the grid can't accommodate all the energy generated. In one auction in October, for example, the spot market price from producers in north Texas was $34 per megawatt hour while those from the west was $24 per megawatt hour. ERCOT doesn't just buy from the lowest bidder, it has to consider where the demand is and who can supply it promptly.

The competitionno can become so intense that some wind energy producers in the western region are willing to pay ERCOT to take the electricity from their turbines.

Even though the spot market makes up a small slice, its prices will affect the rest of the market, said Dan Jones, vice president of Potomac Economics. The state contracts with Potomac to monitor the power market and recommend policy changes to the ERCOT.

Spot market prices signal the value of electricity, and can be used by retail or wholesale customers to set contract prices, Jones said. In effect, wind energy producers are paying consumers to keep wind turbines going.

ERCOT doesn't tally how much energy and money have flowed its way as a result of negative pricing, said Dottie Roark, an ERCOT spokeswoman.

Which wind energy producers have offered to pay to play? Pretty much everyone, Jones said. Calls to some of the major wind energy developers in Texas, such as FPL Group, weren't immediately returned.

With a boom in wind energy development, Texas will likely to see more negative pricing happening - and for a longer stretch of time. Geography plays a part too. The state continues to experience a dramatic increase to its wind generation capacity in its rural western region. Texas, however, has yet to build enough new transmission lines to carry the energy to urban centers such as Dallas and Austin.

"For the short term, for the next year at least, there is going to be quite a bit of congestion out there," Jones said.

Texas has the most wind energy generation capacity in the country. In November alone, nearly 1.68 gigawatts of wind power generation came online in Texas, bringing the total capacity in the state to about 7.9 gigawatts.

Meanwhile, the transmission lines crisscrossing the ERCOT territory can accommodate roughly 4.5 gigawatts at any time, Jones said. Adding to the imbalance is the mismatch between when people use power and when the wind blows. Wind is most abundant at night and during spring and fall in Texas, Jones said. Power consumption peaks, however, in the afternoon and the summer.

ERCOT has created an ambitious plan to increase the transmission capacity to accommodate about 18.5 gigawatts of new wind power. In September, a group of utilities and transmission operators applied to develop the nearly $5 billion project (see Texas Consortium Seeks $4.93B for Transmission Lines).

State regulators hope to see a lot of new transmission lines in the next four years. Until then, Giberson argues, the generous federal tax credit isn't working as it should.

"You are wasting resources in order to produce subsidized goods," Giberson said. "It shows the subsidies are more than necessary to keep them in business."

Wind power producers would disagree. Some of them also believe that the inadequate transmission system and the negative pricing will curtail wind farm developments. In fact, state regulators already see projects delayed or canceled as a result.

"The market will take care of itself," said Jeff Rhodes, a spokesman for Duke Energy, which began operating a 59-megawatt wind farm in western Texas in recent months. "I don't see how you can make money from just building for the tax credit."

Rhodes declined to discuss negative pricing, adding that Duke aims to minimize having to sell power on the spot market by locking in long-term contracts. Duke doesn't plan to delay any wind energy projects, he added.

For others developers, waiting for a better transmission system will be a better bet.

"If I have a million dollars to spend on a wind turbine, I wouldn't put in wind turbine in western Texas right now. Maybe in two or three years," Jones said.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Industrial WInd Turbines for New York?

Many NY politicians, members of the media and environmentalists see wind power as an all-encompassing solution to global warming, energy independence, as well initiating massive job creation. Are these rosy expectations supported by scientific facts and wind project performance?

A recent AP article stated that New York currently has about 700 Megawatts of installed wind capacity, less than the output of a single large nuclear plant. The article states that New York has the potential for up to 7000 MW of installed capacity. The catch here is the vast difference between installed capacity and actual production.

Two North Country wind projects went on line in April -- Noble Clinton with an installed capacity of 100.5 MW and Noble Ellenburgh with an installed capacity of 81 MW. The 2nd quarter Clinton output averaged 12.9 MW and the 3rd quarter output was 11.7 MW. Noble Ellenburgh’s 2nd quarter average was 13.2 MW and 10.4 MW for the 3rd quarter. Those figure represent an overall performance of only 13.4% of capacity rating.

Wind developers have consistently claimed their turbines will operate in the 30-35% of capacity range. Early indications suggest that realistically they will produce only half that. Add to a low efficiency many hours of zero production and a complete lack of dependability, wind is the most unpredictable of all generating methods.

Both North Country wind projects average over 200 hours of zero output for the 2nd quarter and nearly 300 hrs for the 3rd quarter or about 10% to 14% of the time producing no power. This means on average no power is produced for more than 2 hours each day! Even larger blocks of time involve production of less than 1% of rated capacity. The extreme variability of wind power makes it totally unsuitable for baseload power.

The northern New York wind projects are yielding a very low return on their investment, averaging less than 4% before expenses according to The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

We have to ask why would a wind developer build spend about $ 3 million per turbine in an area with winds less than the minimum recommended by NYSERDA? The answer seems to be that the real goal of NY wind projects is not cheap renewable power but rather the sale of tax credits and green credits. Is wind power really just an elaborate tax break?

Ostensibly created to allow struggling wind companies to lower their tax burden, tax credits are sold to corporations and investors because wind company write-offs -- particularly double declining balance depreciation -- are so lucrative.

While NY is cutting funds to hospital, nursing homes and schools it continues to subsidize wind power.

Is wind power really a clean, effective method to reduce global warming? While wind turbines are non-polluting once they are up and running, the manufacture, transport and construction of a wind turbine produces thousands of tons of carbon based emissions. Every step from mining the ore to make the steel, moving parts by ship or overland and constructing access roads to running giant cranes and excavators creates emissions. Building the access roads alone produces nearly ten thousand tons of emissions.

The problem of mercury pollution associated with wind projects is rarely mentioned. However, it is a known fact among environmental experts that the production of cement produces large amounts of mercury released from the limestone used as the raw material, the median amount being 1.5 lbs. of mercury per ton of cement. Each turbine base requires over a million pounds of concrete –you do the math!

Since NY has relatively low winds (only 1/50th of some western states) a wind project may never pay back its carbon debt. In many areas of NY hydropower would have to be shut down to accommodate wind [re-state reason; original wording didn’t make sense.]

Add to the above there are the problems of property devaluation, scenic blight, bird and bat kills, wildlife habitat fragmentation, human health risks highlighted by recent studies on Wind Turbine Syndrome. There is also the danger from turbines built too close to roads or homes, thereby threatening potential ice throw or blade disintegration. Another question is whether there is too much potential for unethical business dealings between officials who control wind projects and the developers.

Coupled with the major disadvantages of too little wind and too many people, it is little wonder that more informed people are starting to question whether industrial wind turbines belong in New York State.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dangers of windmills outweigh benefits

I am all for alternative energy sources as long as they will enhance our lives and the life of our planet. Admittedly, those "windmills" sound like a great idea: free wind, energy for the community, an economic boon in these troubled times, especially for farmers who have suffered much over recent years.

The Concerned Residents of Hammond has looked at the research, interviewed experts, heard testimonials, watched the videos and learned the true dangers that are beneath the surface.

Landowners will benefit, yes. They will receive money for each 500-foot tower they allow on their property. Yes, that's 500 feet. The community, however, will not benefit. No reduction in energy bills, no income, no electricity.

What the citizens of this town will get is a long list of negative impacts, which the companies will not disclose prior to leasing. Before the towers are even in operation, properties will suffer major damage from tons of equipment being dragged through fields and woodlands. Drilling may cause damage to wells, septic systems and foundations.

Once running (and they don't always run), noise from the turbines, flicker effect and low-level vibrations have been shown to have detrimental effects on sleep and health, particularly to those most at risk: the elderly, those with pre-existing medical conditions such as migraines or high blood pressure, and kids with learning disabilities.

If the turbines catch fire (and they do), the local fire department is not equipped to battle a 500-foot spinning flame-thrower. Communities that have already succumbed to the companies have seen property values plummet. Not to mention that our beautiful fields, plateaus and river views will be marred forever. The list goes on. Just log on to any number of Web sites for documentation and you'll get the idea.

Perhaps the most insidious damage has only just begun. In this small, close-knit community, divisiveness has already taken hold. Many residents fear that their neighbors will sign leases without realizing how it may affect the rest of the township. Friends, relatives and neighbors are taking sides. Citizens are losing faith in a local governing board that seems to have taken the dive without checking the dangers first. Fortunately, CROH has been there to help us evaluate the pros and cons of this expensive, life-altering process. We need to work together to protect our way of life, our lovely area and our future.

Brooke Stark

Hammond

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Prattsburgh wind farm stalls

Prattsburgh, N.Y.

Construction of energy-producing wind turbines in the town of Prattsburgh is on hold for at least a year.

Prattsburgh officials were notified late last week of the delay by the wind farm developer – First Wind.

“While we remain committed to wind development in the Northeast, we’ve made a strategic decision to postpone construction on the Prattsburgh wind project,” said Chris Swartley, the company’s vice president of development.

Swartley said the company appreciates “the strong community partnership” and will continue to maintain its Prattsburgh office, existing towers and the existing leases now in place with landowners.

The announcement caps a year of trouble for the energy company, which announced last spring construction of 36 turbines in Prattsburgh would begin in the fall.

Since then, a flurry of lawsuits have been filed regarding the project, with the first legal action this year brought in January by the Naples and Prattsbugh central school districts. The districts charged they didn’t receive a fair share of money from a tax relief agreement between First Wind and the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency.

Another lawsuit included challenges to eminent domain proceedings brought by the Prattsburgh Town Board to help First Wind lay underground transmission cables. Also, there have been charges of improper and unethical action by town Supervisor Harold McConnell.

First Wind also is one of two wind farm developers under investigation by the state Attorney General’s office.

Steuben County Industrial Development Agency Executive Director James Sherron said Monday he believes a court ruling on eminent domain proceedings will ultimately decide if the company pursues the Prattsburgh development.

“That's my understanding, anyway,” Sherron said.

In the past, First Wind officials have said the land targeted for underground cables are essential to the project.

First Wind also faced financial issues this summer, when one of its backers, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy and was subsequently acquired by Barclays.

John Lamontagne, communications director for First Wind, said financing the wind projects is challenging, given the current economy.

The developer is currently reviewing all its projects across North America, he said.
“(Prattsburgh) is not the only project in our pipeline that has been impacted, but in some cases other projects are moving forward as scheduled,” he said.

The company is in the midst of building 51 turbines in the town of Cohocton that expected to become operational within the next few weeks, according to Lamontagne. The original start-up date for the projects on Dutch and Lent hills was October.

McConnell said he is concerned First Wind will eventually scrap plans to build in Prattsburgh. He said the town's 2009 budget does not contain special tax revenues from the wind farm development.

Prattsburgh is also the site of another wind farm proposed by developer EcoGen. EcoGen is awaiting final approval by SCIDA of its plan, which is slated for a vote within the next few weeks, Sherron said.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Looking into the ˜noise’ about wind turbines

TUSTIN - When the state of Michigan commissioned recommendations to help formulate wind energy policies, acoustic expert Rick James saw two problems with the commission. The commission lacked both the expertise of an acoustic engineer and a medical doctor.

Without these two perspectives, a major concern of wind turbines - their potential physical side effects due to the sounds they emitted - were overlooked.

To counter this oversight, James has been working since 2006, consulting and sharing current research results that shed more light on this issue.

Thursday, James travelled to northern Michigan, meeting with Sherman Township residents at the behest of the local Save Our Sherman group.

"The state set the setback at 1,000 feet, looking at it from an economic perspective," James said. "If they looked at it from a public health perspective, the setbacks would be at least a mile."

James highlighted two primary concerns with the health effects of wind turbines. The first is the simple audible annoyance that he cited as causing sleep disturbance, among other conditions.

While wind turbines produce a relatively quiet sound when compared to other common noises such as cars, airports, or railroads, a study in Sweden showed that people find the sound more annoying.

"It causes the problem with sleep disturbance not because it’s overly loud, but because it can be equated to Chinese water torture. It’s the constant, drop, drop, drop."

"One factor we didn’t understand is that people choose to live in rural communities to get away from the noise," James explained. "What they are looking for is something only rural America can offer - peace and quiet."

The second health concern related to wind turbines is connected to the inaudible, low-frequency sound produced. While this concern has been rejected by wind companies, James himself has done research that proves that windmills produce a constant low-frequency sound.

"I found it dominant, omnipresent. Unlike the audible whooshing, which is there only part of the time when the wind is just right, the low frequency is there all of the time," James said.

Low-frequency sounds, which are created by large and stable sound waves, are known to travel for great distances and penetrate nearly every substance.

However, the medical dangers of the low-frequency sound waves are still highly debated and not yet conclusive.

One study that James cites comes from New York. After encountering several patients living near wind farms who complained of symptoms ranging from migraines and dizziness to uneasiness, Dr. Nina Pierpont began one of the first peer-reviewed comprehensive medical studies of the effects of low-frequency sound emitted by wind ¨ turbines.

According to James, the study asked patients with symptoms to physically move away from the wind turbine area - and the symptoms disappeared. She then had them move back, and the symptoms returned. The process was repeated, and she collected the data. The results of her study may be viewed for free at www.windturbinesyndrome.com. Pierpont attributes this to the low-frequency sound, what she refers to as Wind Turbine Syndrome.

James argues that while the medical effects of windmills hasn’t yet been fully studied, communities should proceed with caution.

Like smoking and fast food, "Do we really want to wait 30 years to determine if there are health risks?" he asked.

James recommends extending the minimum setbacks from residences to windmills to at least one mile. He explained that wind farms in the western part of the United States have not seen nearly the number of complaints as the eastern half - because the turbines are located much further from people’s homes.

"I’m not against wind energy," James assured. "The message is that we have rushed into this too fast."

James did not speculate on whether Sherman Township should proceeded with wind development but urged township "to make some good rules" to prevent potential concerns to public health.

abox@cadillacnews.com | 775-NEWS (6397)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Windmills at Iron Range wind farm grind to a halt after defects found

Minnesota Power’s Taconite Ridge wind farm isn’t producing nearly as much electricity as anticipated in recent months, with seven of the 10 wind turbines shut off for repairs.

The $50 million project, built on 450 acres of land overlooking U.S. Steel’s Minntac mine, came fully online early this summer. But this fall, inspectors with the turbine manufacturer discovered defects in seven of the wind turbines’ blades. Those turbines were shut down.

Some of the fiberglass blades have “wrinkles” that must be repaired for the blades to operate properly, said Amy Rutledge, communications manager for Minnesota Power. Repairing the blades is taking longer than anticipated.

“We had hoped they would be wrapped up by mid-December, but we’ve had a few issues with the weather,” Rutledge said. Ironically, windy weather kept the manufacturer from removing the rotors as quickly as they’d like, she said.

Repair crews are estimating all 10 turbines will be working by the end of January, Rutledge said. The work is covered under manufacturer Clipper Windpower’s warranty, she said, and the delay won’t affect Minnesota Power’s electrical supply.

The defects were discovered during a scheduled 500-hour inspection, conducted about three or four months after each turbine began operating, said Taconite Ridge project manager Andrew Remus. And while the wrinkles aren’t structural defects, they need to be fixed, he said.

“If we leave them the way they are, without taking any action, they will affect the way the blade operates,” Remus said, adding, “The blade is all one piece, and you need it to be perfect.”

The 153-foot-long blades are made of layer upon layer of fiberglass. Each layer should rest smoothly on top of the previous layer, Rutledge said, and any imperfection will gradually work its way to the blade’s surface to create that wrinkle.

“These are the largest blades out there on the market for inland units,” Remus said.

And in translating such large man-made components from the engineering stage to the real world, “there are some start-up issues, some design and engineering issues you work through.”

Some of the wrinkles will be sanded down and relaminated, Rutledge said, while others will be repaired with a premade “patch” that’s similar to using putty to repair a dented car.

The project is the first large-scale wind farm in northern Minnesota, and the first to be fully owned and operated by Minnesota Power. When running at full capacity, the turbines are expected to produce 25 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 8,000 homes.

The wind farm is part of Minnesota Power’s plan to increase its renewable energy resources. In early 2007, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law a bill requiring electrical utilities to produce 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2025.

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