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Why aren’t Lackawanna windmills turning?

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Have you noticed many of the new windmills along Route 5 are not working?

This isn’t the first time they’ve had mechanical problems, and we managed to dig up some hard numbers on just how much electricity they actually are generating.

In its first year, Steelwinds had to replace all of the gear boxes in the eight turbines. The next year, the blades had to be fixed. And for this entire winter, only half of the Lackawanna windmills have been working at any given time.

So we did some research to see just how much electricity these turbines have actually been producing. According to the numbers filed with the NY Independent System Operator, the eight Lackawanna windmills averaged about 40 Megawatt hours of electricity per year in 2008 and 2009. That’s enough to power almost 6,000 homes, and works out to about 23 percent of its capacity. 100 percent would only be achieved in a constant wind, with turbines that never needed maintenance, so 30 percent is the average capacity for a wind farm.

The bottom line is Steelwinds is putting out less electricity than an average wind farm, partly because of mechanical problems, but it has no effect what Lackawanna gets.

Mayor Norman Polanski said, “We still get our money from them, our $100,000 a year. Uh, but people call about them all the time, they want to know what’s going on.”

At the going rate for electricity, Steelwinds is still making over $2 million a year for the electricity it is generating. On top of that, its investors get an extra two cents a kilowatt for going green. So the investors that helped pay a million bucks to build each one of these turbines get $800,000 every year in federal tax credits.

Steelwinds has plans to build six more, but the company just notified Erie County that plans have been “delayed for several months” until next December because of “delays in completing all of the PILOT agreements, and other circumstances beyond Erie Wind’s control.” You can read the full letter here.

We reached the project manager and a Steelwinds spokesman weeks ago about this story, but they had no comment about any of it.

UPDATE: John Lamontagne of First Wind contacted News 4 Tuesday night with this explanation: “The turbines are currently down due to composite work being completed in the towers. Given the scope of work being done and the the harsh winter conditions, there has been a delay in returning the turbines to service. We expect the turbines to return to service in the near future.”