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Our View: Cut losses on VA windturbine

It’s time for the federal government and the St. Cloud VA Health Care System campus to cut ties with the company that installed the 250-foot-tall, largely inoperable wind turbine on the VA campus.

In fact, the VA should do more than cut ties. It should do everything within its legal powers to recoup any and all tax dollars provided to installer JK Scanlan Co. of East Falmouth, Mass., for the increasingly embarrassing $2.3 million project.

As a Nov. 5 Times news report noted, the turbine has not operated since Aug. 15. Worse yet, it has been operational only 47 percent of the time since it officially began spinning in April of 2011.

Originally, the turbine was touted almost three years ago as a potential model for using renewable energy to help power a VA campus. The turbine was to produce about 15 percent of the VA campus’s electricity, saving a projected $98,000 each year. It was built with federal stimulus dollars to meet a 2005 law that requires federal agencies to generate at least 7.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2013.

It’s been anything but smooth spinning, though, for the project.

First, the project was delayed during construction when one of the blades was damaged during shipping. And once operational, a variety of problems have limited it to operating only 47 percent of the time. Among the most noticeable to residents was brown stains on the blades – apparently caused by leaking (but harmless) hydraulic fluid. Oh, and, of course, blades that never spun even in the healthiest of Central Minnesota breezes.

According to the Nov. 5 news report, VA officials have been negotiating with the Massachusetts-based contractor to fix all the problems.

Well, enough is enough.

As a first step, the VA should take action against the contractor for failing to make the project fully operational 21 months (and counting) after it was supposed to work. Essentially, the VA should demand the contractor return taxpayer money it received and even provide reimbursement for the energy savings not realized because of the inoperable turbine.

From there, the VA should determine the cost-effectiveness of another company making the needed repairs or if that amounts to even more wasting of public dollars all in the name of chasing the federal mandate on renewable energy sources.

To this point, the turbine has been a deep and costly disappointment, not just for the VA but for taxpayers, too. At the least, recoup those losses – and definitely don’t incur more of them. America just can’t afford it.