Blades fly off tower in Ocean County; state freezes applications for new sites
With the promise of saving money by generating renewable energy from wind turbines instead of purchasing it from a public power company, Forked River farm owners had two, 120-foot turbines erected on their properties in December.
As of March 8, however, neither wind tower was rotating any longer. Three fiberglass blades ranging in weight from 265 to 290 pounds flew off the tower of the turbine at James Knoeller’s Christmas Tree Farm on Carriage Road on March 2.
Cracks in the blades of an identical wind turbine tower at Argos Farms operated by Spyro Martin were discovered around the same time. Martin’s turbine was shut down to prevent a similar situation.
The incident led to an investigation by the state Office of Clean Energy, which is also temporarily freezing applications for its Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) wind project until it can be determined why the blades became disengaged. The investigation has not been completed yet.
J. Gregory Reinert, director of communications for the state Board of Public Utilities, said that days after the incident, Mike Winka, director of the bureau’s Clean Energy Division, came out to Knoeller’s 15-acre farm with several BPU engineers to examine the fallen blades.
After that visit, Reinert said, “the program was temporarily suspended to give BPU staff the time needed to review turbine rebate applications for public safety purposes.
“All 37 projects in the commitment stage are on hold. Of those, only two (Knoeller and Martin’s farms) are ready for rebate payment,” Reinert said.
The suspension of the program comes at a time when several communities throughout the state, ranging from the Jersey Shore to Warren County, are either looking at proposed projects or reviewing municipal regulations concerning the installation of future energy-generating windmills.
Frank DeWitt, who owns Augusta-based Alternative Energy Associates which installs wind turbines, though neither of the ones in Lacey, said he hopes the mishaps encourage the state to implement more rigorous standards for wind power companies.
“Anyone can open a company and put a turbine up right now,” said DeWitt, who is also a member of the small wind workgroup, a group of stakeholders who teamed up with officials from the BPU and Rutgers and Rowan universities to promote wind power. “When you are dealing with something that is 1,300 pounds and is 120 feet up in the air, that can be very dangerous. One accident can ruin the whole industry.”
Although the Kittatinny Ridge and hilly areas of Northwest New Jersey are well suited to wind power – meaning areas that sustain winds of at least 11 mph – officials are slow to roll out the program here, he said.
“A lot of times, it’s a battle,” he said. “The tides are changing, though, and more towns are more open to it.”
The Frelinghuysen Township Committee is reviewing an ordinance that would permit turbines, and municipalities, including Sparta, Fredon and Green Township, have expressed interest in wind power, DeWitt said. Alternative Energy Associates helped net Vernon High School a $650,000 grant to install a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine, but the board is still deciding whether to go forward with the installation.
Knoeller and Martin both purchased their wind turbines from the same manufacturer, Enertech of Kansas. The towers were installed by Skylands Renewable Energy LLC of Hampton.
“The most disappointing aspect of this project prior to the blades falling off was the electric production was only 25 percent of what I was told I was going to get by Skylands Renewable Energy. The catastrophic blade failure was the last straw,” Knoeller added.
Knoeller said that his wind turbine tower was to produce 66,000 kilowatts a year, which would have amounted to a savings of $14,000 to $15,000 from not having to purchase the power from a power company such as JCP&L. He said he is not satisfied with the safety of the tower or the manufacturer.
The Clean Energy Rebate that Knoeller would have applied for would have totaled $79,355.
Now he wants the bladeless tower removed from his farm and his money refunded. Enertech and Skylands Renewable Energy, however, contend that Knoeller is not covered by the contract’s warranty because he missed scheduled payments.
Martin, who had hoped to save at least $10,000 on his farm’s yearly electrical costs, is taking a different approach. “I am moving forward with Enertech, who I expect will replace the blades.”
Enertech Sales Manager Dylan Jones said Friday that his company is taking responsibility for the problem, which was not a design flaw but a manufacturing issue. He added that there were no problems related to towers’ installation by Skylands.
“It is likely that one blade failed and the imbalance created gyroscopic forces that broke the other two,” Jones said.
“We are grateful no one was hurt. We are grateful that there was no damage to property. We understand the concerns,” Jones added. He said no adjustments could be performed at Argos Farms until the state completes its investigation.
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