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Wind turbine failures in Lacey put state energy program on hold

LACEY – Hoping to save money by generating renewable energy from wind turbines instead of buying it from a power company, two Forked River farm owners had 120-foot turbines erected on their properties in December.

But by March 8, the turbines no longer were rotating. 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 turbine tower at Argos Farms, operated by Spyro Martin, were discovered around the same time. Martin’s turbine was shut down as a precaution.

The incidents prompted an investigation by the state Office of Clean Energy, which is freezing applications for its Renewable Energy Incentive Program wind project until officials know why the blades at Knoeller’s farm came off. The investigation is ongoing.

J. Gregory Reinert, director of communications for the state Board of Public Utilities, said that Mike Winka, director of the Clean Energy Division, went to Knoeller’s 15-acre farm with several BPU engineers to examine the fallen blades.

After that visit, Reinert said, the REIP program was temporarily suspended.

“All 37 projects in the commitment stage are on hold. Of those, only two (Knoeller’s and Martin’s farms) are ready for rebate payment,” Reinert said.

The suspension of the program comes at a time when several Ocean County communities – including Long Beach Township, Waretown and Ocean Gate – are considering wind projects or reviewing municipal regulations concerning installation of windmills.

Knoeller and Martin purchased their turbines from the same manufacturer, Kansas-based Enertech. The towers were installed by Skylands Renewable Energy LLC of Hampton.

Knoeller’s 17-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, was working with horses near the tower when the blades flew off.

“One of them nearly hit her,” Knoeller said. “The weather was fine. There were mild winds. One of the blades was found 215 feet away.

“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 his 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 with the manufacturer.

The Clean Energy rebate Knoeller could 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, say 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,” he said.

Enertech sales manager Dylan Jones said his company is taking responsibility for the problem, which he said was not a design flaw but a manufacturing issue. He added that there were no problems related to the 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 can be performed at Argos Farms until the state completes its investigation.