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City officials frustrated by turbine delays  

Credit:  By CYNTHIA AUKERMAN, News-Gazette reporter, Winchester News-Gazette, www.winchesternewsgazette.com 2 September 2010 ~~

Randolph Eastern’s turbine squeaked when it turned; neither the school turbine or Union City’s wind turbine seemed to do much turning in the months since they’ve been up. And Union City, Ind. Mayor Bryan Conklin has been fielding many complaints and inquiries about why the two turbines didn’t seem to be operating regularly..

Last week Conklin called Tony Kuykendall, business development manager for Performance Services Inc., the company that owns the turbines installed in a unique partnership between the city and Randolph Eastern Schools. The city and RE each agreed to have a turbine built on their properties, with PSI providing the financing in return for tax credits for which only schools and towns were eligible.

After all the delays and negative comments he’s received, Conklin told Kuykendall, “I want an exact date for completion, no more estimates. Don’t give me a date unless you are sure.”

In a follow-up email to Conklin, Kuykendall wrote Friday, “I completely understand your frustration . . .Please keep in mind the school and city have been kept (financially) whole during this time period. Our agreements with Nordic WindPower (the manufacturer of the turbines) have protected both entities.”

The contracts with Nordic were written to provide insurance coverage for lost revenues due to delays. Also, each turbine, even during testing, earned $83,480 in the first six months of this year, generating a $6,000 surplus each for the city and for the school. The rest of the earnings went to payments for purchase and installation costs, plus operations and maintenance.

Arlene Gavin, director of marketing for PSI, wrote, “The surplus was expected and positions the city and school well for the second half of the year.”

Gavin said the turnover of the turbines from the manufacturer to PSI is now expected by October 1. That is when the commissioning process for the turbines will be complete.

Part of the reason the turnover has been delayed is due to the wind season, since traditionally the summer months are the lowest in wind volume. The turbines need steady winds of 9-12 miles per hour to keep their blades turning. Winds should pick up in October, Gavin said.

Other good news is that the two-year warranty and operations and maintenance agreement with Nordic will not begin until the official turnover date. The original project costs included both the warranty and operation and maintenance costs, so no additional funds have been required.

Neither the city nor the school sustained any costs for the blade repair, as agreements between PSI and Nordic fully covered all of that situation.

The arrival of the turbines in January created much excitement and enthusiasm. And then in February, after the turbines were activated for testing, the tip of the city’s blade appeared to break. Nordic removed the blade and sent it away for forensic testing. The turbine was involved in an accident when the trailer bringing it to town on State Route 227 bottomed out, and there was some thought that the accident caused the later problem with the blade tip.

Because the forensic testing could not identify with certainty the cause of the tip’s “break,” the school’s blades also underwent lengthy examination before the commissioning process began.

The problems made some people question the turbine’s design and quality.

Kuykendall wrote, “The Nordic machine, technology and design is not new; it has been around for more than 20 years and is well proven. Nordic has made many upgrades and improvements to the original machine. This has resulted in a lot of additional testing and time.

“It is much longer than PSI expected, but it is also why PSI required protection for the school and the city in our contract. Of course, the blade incident is by far the biggest reason our project has been delayed so long.”

Kuykendall said the turbines are currently in normal operational and automatic mode. When wind speeds exceed 9 mph, the blades will turn and produce electricity. Nordic also recently installed a new communication system to allow better remote monitoring and response capabilities.

PSI is preparing its “punch-list items” which must be completed before the turnover. Kuykendall said those items are mostly aesthetic (appearances) and “inside the tower” safety items that do not affect the ability of the turbines to operate.

Until the turnover is official, Nordic is still standing behind its promise to compensate the school and city for lost revenue.

Kuykendall concluded, “PSI anxiously awaits the final turnover date, but also understands Nordic’s desire to ensure the turbines operate at the guaranteed levels now and well into the future. I can’t ask for additional patience, as you (the city) and the school have exuded more than expected, but I do ask for your confidence that your project will be completed per our promise and that the school and city will continue to be made whole (financially) until we meet those obligations.”

At last week’s city council meeting, Conklin said the wind turbine project had been “kind of scary” in its inception, and still was. He added, “It was a leap of faith when we did this, and there’s no turning back now.”

Councilman Chad Spence said, “We didn’t delve into this lightly. We had a lot of sessions and asked a lot of questions.”

Source:  By CYNTHIA AUKERMAN, News-Gazette reporter, Winchester News-Gazette, www.winchesternewsgazette.com 2 September 2010

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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