PORTSMOUTH – There are three options to deal with the high school’s broken wind turbine and none of them is very promising.
The first option, explained by town planner Gary Crosby to the Town Council on Feb. 25, is to pay up to $730,000 to replace the broken gearbox and have the town resume ownership of the 336-foot-high turbine.
The second option: Allow a developer to dismantle the turbine and replace it with a new model of the same height. A private entity would own the turbine and make lease payments to cover the $2.38 million the town owes on the project. No additional revenue would go to the town.
Crosby described the third option as the “nuclear option.” Sell the turbine for scrap, leaving the town to find a way to pay off the remaining debt.
“This is just about the most complex problem I’ve ever had to face,” Crosby told the council.
Four developers have submitted bids for the project – two each for options 1 and 2 – in a request for the proposals issued by the town in December.
The first option, which Crosby described as “repair and resume,” would require the purchase of two new gearboxes. Most new wind turbines no longer use gearboxes, and instead rely a direct-drive system. Option 1, however, would allow the town to receive revenue from the sale of renewable energy credits once the turbine is operational.
After Crosby presented the alternatives, the Town Council discussed the details in executive session. Crosby said the council may announce its preferred option at its meeting in March.
The 1.5-megawatt turbine was commissioned in March 2009. The turbine had a 20-year life expectancy, but was shutdown June 18, 2012, after an inspection showed significant wear to the gearbox. An independent investigation blamed the damage on a faulty design. The gearbox, however, was no longer covered by warranty, and the manufacturer of the turbine, AAER Wind Energy of Quebec, had filed for bankruptcy. Three of five similar AAER turbines erected in California and in Templeton, Mass., also suffered gearbox failure.
The manufacturer of the gearboxes, Jahnel Kestermann of Germany, has offered to sell two replacement gearboxes to the town for $203,000. It would cost the town an additional $407,000 to remove the old gearbox and install a new one.
An October 2012 audit (pdf) advised against the repair-and-resume scenario. Once up and running, the turbine could deliver annual revenue of $160,000 to the town from the sale of electricity. The revenue, however, wouldn’t be sufficient to pay the annual operating costs, including loan payments, of some $600,000, the report concluded.
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