More than a week after Iberdrola Renewables opted to shut down assembly of the first wind farm in Herkimer County, construction has resumed, but little is known about how the project veered off course.
What is certain, one state official said, is the recent turn of events at Hardscrabble Wind Farm is hardly the norm.
Iberdrola halted turbine construction earlier this month to complete additional testing after it discovered concrete used in the foundations of some of the turbines did not meet company standards.
Jim Denn, a spokesman for the state Public Service Commission, said it’s rare to find problems with the construction of one turbine, let alone a group of them.
“There are hundreds of wind turbines that exist in New York state that are operating safely and that have been constructed appropriately,” Denn said. “It is certainly unusual if a particular turbine has a problem with the foundation at any point.”
By the time construction ceased, 25 of the 37 turbines slated to dot the Fairfield and Norway landscape were fully constructed.
On Friday, the company formally announced that construction had commenced again on turbines where tests were completed and foundations meet or exceed the company’s standards. Further results still are pending, company officials said.
Rumors regarding the nature of the problem and where fault lies abound among residents, contractors and even some local officials.
Ibderdrola spokesman Paul Copleman would only respond to O-D inquiries through e-mailed responses. He declined to release the names of the project’s contractors and to speak about whether all current contractors would remain working on the project despite the glitch.
The problem, Coplemain said, involved the strength of the concrete foundations, which support the turbines. Data the company gathered during routine tests showed some foundations were weak, he said.
While the company opted to temporarily call it quits on construction, local officials have said they knew the gist of the problems long before construction stopped.
Copleman confirmed that fact last week, saying that Iberdrola first identified the specific problem in early November but only decided to cease construction Nov. 12 to pursue certain tests.
“We have aggressively addressed any concerns as soon as they were identified,” Copleman said. “Until all of the tests are concluded and the engineer reviews the data, we cannot confirm to what extent the issue exists.”
The issues almost certainly would have been handled differently if the project was larger, state officials said.
The state Public Service Commission regulates wind energy projects of 80 megawatts or greater. The Hardscrabble project, however, falls just six megawatts shy of being restricted by state guidelines.
For those projects that are bound by state regulations, the state has the authority to step in and conduct an investigation when problems are discovered with wind farms. Those same wind farms meeting the 80 megawatt standard also must follow various state regulation and approval processes, said Denn, the commission spokesman.
For example, earlier this year, the state investigated a turbine collapse at Noble Environmental Power’s Altona Wind Park in Clinton County. The investigation revealed that during a power outage, the turbine spun out of control due to incorrect wiring.
As a result, the state ordered all wind power developers with projects of 80 megawatts or greater to certify that they have emergency systems that will shut down turbines during a power loss.
Asked why the threshold is set at 80 megawatts, Denn said the system simply is what it is.
“It’s 80 megawatts or above because that’s the law,” Denn said. “That’s like asking why do we travel at 55 miles per hour. We do because that’s the law.”
So where does regulation lie for projects such as Hardscrabble?
It’s entirely up to local officials, Denn said.
Fairfield Town Supervisor Richard Souza and Norway Town Supervisor Judy Gokey did not return calls last week.
Delaware Engineering, a firm specializing in environmental engineering, was jointly hired by the towns to oversee the projects. Engineer Stephanie Vetter, who is assigned to the project, would not comment on its recent problems and directed questions to town officials.
Norway resident Cheryl Crossett, who will have six turbines on her land when the project is complete, said she’s not worried about the project’s oversight.
Her husband, Scott Crossett, is a Norway Town Board member who recused himself from discussions about the project because it involved his land.
“I don’t have a concern for the wind towers themselves being that they’ve caught the problem and they’re in the process of rectifying it,” Cheryl Crossett said. “Now that they know what’s going on, I’m sure they’re going to be more diligent.”
HARDSCRABBLE PROJECT AT A GLANCE
Project scope: 74 megawatts. Only projects 80 megawatts or larger are overseen by the state Public Service Commission. The only oversight for the Hardscrabble project comes from the towns involved.
Turbine specifications: All turbines are 2.0 megawatt Gamesa turbines. They measure 322 feet to the center hub or 476 feet to the tip of the blade.
Foundation specifications: Each foundation was expected to use about 680 cubic yards of concrete, according to Iberdrola’s project plans.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding