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Two wind turbines idle as state agency, National Grid point fingers

FOX UNDERCOVER – Two taxpayer-built wind turbines have been sitting idle in Central Massachusetts for more than a year as National Grid and the state agency go round and round over who is to blame.

FOX Undercover’s revelations of the stalled clean energy projects are the latest in a string of problems with turbines: last week FOX Undercover reported that another turbine – one built in Charlestown using $4.7 million in federal stimulus money – has been out of commission.

The newest revelations have to do with two turbines at the North Central Correctional Institution in Gardner. Construction started on the Department of Correction site in September 2010, with on-site work completed in March 2011.

Now, 16 months later, the Gardner turbines still aren’t working, leaving taxpayers stuck with a nearly $10 million bill for the still-inoperable equipment.

Who is at fault depends on whom you ask.

Diane Wiffin, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction, said it’s National Grid’s fault: “…it was determined that system upgrades were required by National Grid to allow the DOC to connect to the system.”

National Grid spokesman David Graves acknowledged in a statement that, “This has been a complex project that required extensive design and construction work over a period of many months.”

But the National Grid statement also places blame for the delay back on the state prison system: “National Grid is currently awaiting delivery of an additional document stating that the correctional facility is ready to be switched to newly installed equipment.”

Regardless of who is to blame, the turbines, which are supposed to save the Department of Correction at least a half-million dollars a year, aren’t doing anything at the moment, though Wiffin says they should be operating some time this summer.

The summer is also when the Charlestown wind turbine, overseen by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, is supposed to be running after overcoming its own delay. The turbine needs a new foundation after the original one settled more than expected.

“What do you say to people that drive by and see this wind turbine not working?” FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked Fred Laskey, executive director of the MWRA, in an interview last week.

“I would say be patient, it will be working, and also realize they and we are protected so that all the risk falls to the contractor and their insurance company,” Laskey replied.

The MWRA’s turbine first went online in October, but was stopped in January after the foundation problem was discovered.