November 5, 2012

VA turbine casting a static shadow

Written by Kirsti Marohn | Nov. 4, 2012 |

A wind turbine on the St. Cloud VA Health Care System campus hasn’t produced electricity since August.

VA officials have been negotiating with the Massachusetts-based contractor that installed the turbine to fix problems that have plagued it since it began operating in April 2011.

The turbine, the first in the nation built on a VA campus, was touted as a model for renewable energy projects. It was expected to produce about 15 percent of the VA’s electricity, saving a projected $98,000 each year.

Instead, the turbine has been available for energy production only 47 percent of the time since it was installed, said Barry Venable, public affairs officer for the St. Cloud VA. He said it has been inoperable since Aug. 15.

“The hospital’s view is the turbine project continues to exhibit an unacceptable level of performance,” Venable said. “Our desire is an operational turbine.”

It was expected that the turbine would remain in the commissioning phase for a few weeks. Instead, the VA has not yet accepted the project, Venable said.

The $2.3 million project was funded through a federal stimulus grant. It helps the VA comply with a 2005 law that requires federal agencies to generate at least 7.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2013.

The turbine was installed by JK Scanlan Co. of East Falmouth, Mass. Messages left at JK Scanlan’s headquarters were not returned.

One option the VA could take is to file a termination for default, an action the federal government can take against a contractor for failing to meet the terms of the contract.

In an email sent in response to a request for an interview, Mark Ballesteros, a spokesman for the federal VA headquarters,

said the agency remains in communication with the contractor and has not terminated the contract.

“The VA and the contractor have a mutual interest in quickly resolving the issues surrounding the inoperability,” Ballesteros stated.

Venable said the problems are solely with this turbine and not with the idea of harnessing wind to power the VA campus.

“We think the concept is still valid,” he said. “The issue here is we need a machine that works properly.”

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