The wind turbine at the Cascade County shop, installed in 2008 with projections it would pay for up to 80 percent of the facility’s energy costs, is falling short of expectations because the site isn’t as windy as anticipated.
At the turbine’s current rate of power production, it would take the county 33.70 years to recover its $201,924 investment, according to kilowatt-hour production figures provided by the county.
“We needed to get a payback in 25 years because that was the expected life of the unit,” Commission Chairman Joe Briggs said.
The turbine currently is idle because of a parts malfunction, which isn’t helping matters.
Commissioners, led by former Commissioner Peggy Beltrone, saw the wind tower project at the shop as a way to reduce energy costs but also as a way to promote wind development because of its prominent location on Interstate 15.
“We did it largely to try to attract some additional investment in wind power in Cascade County,” Briggs said. “That part of the equation is still valid.”
Over the five years it’s been in service, the turbine has produced $29,959 worth of energy, enough to pay for 34 percent of the county’s total electricity bill of $87,574 over that time.
Wind-driven electricity dropped in 2012 and covered 19 percent of the county’s electricity bill.
When the turbine was erected, county officials projected green power would meet as much as 80 percent of the facility’s electricity needs, with savings offsetting the investment in 20 years or maybe sooner.
“It has certainly not performed financially as well as expected and not as well as I had hoped obviously,” Briggs said.
The tower, which stands 150 high including its 50-foot-long blades, was installed in 2008 at the new $6.4 million shop complex near Manchester. It cost $201,924.
The site isn’t as windy as county commissioners had hoped when they approved the 50-kilowatt turbine, said Brian Clifton, the county’s public works director.
“The turbine is producing less of its theoretical max than we had predicted,” Clifton said. “That’s directly due to the amount of wind energy available at that location.”
The county did not conduct a wind study on the hill prior to the installation of the turbine, which wind companies typically do before erecting turbines.
County officials knew the turbine would help with energy savings at the 40,000-square-foot shop but didn’t know precisely how much, Clifton said. That’s because the shop complex was a new facility and it was unclear how much energy it would use. Electricity production fluctuates with use of the facility and the weather.
Wind turbines do not operate 100 percent of the time because their operation depends on how much the wind blows, Clifton noted.
In 2011, the turbine ran about 13 percent of the time and produced $8,601 worth of electricity, or 38 percent of the annual electricity bill of $22,442. Wind paid 43 percent of the electricity bill in 2009.
“Last year we definitely did not have the wind that we had had the years before,” Clifton said of 2012.
In 2012, the wind turbine generated $4,795, or 19 percent of the facility’s total electricity bill, the lowest amount it’s generated. It ran at 9.21 percent of its theoretical operating capacity of 100 percent.
If wind production picks up at the site in the coming years, Clifton said, the county could end up recovering its investment sooner than the current projection of 33 years.
On average, the shop turbine is generating $6,000 worth of electricity a year for the county.
The turbine has been mostly idle for the first five months of 2013.
“The last few months with it not running at all has really damaged the value of it for us,” Briggs said.
Tip breaks in the tower blades, needed to shut down the turbine when the wind blows too hard, malfunctioned, and it’s been idle since the end of January.
Clifton said it wasn’t repaired sooner because the turbine manufacturer, Entegrity Wind System Inc. of Boulder, Colo., went out of business, and the parts had to be ordered from a company in Nova Scotia.
The cost of replacement parts is $727, said Jon Foster, a wind specialist with Moodie Wind Energy, a subsidiary of Moodie Implement.
The county hired Moodie Wing Energy to do tower maintenance after Entegrity went out of business.
Parts are expected to arrive late this week with the repairs likely to occur early next week, Foster said.
Another company was planning to use the turbine and the shop site as a test facility for a new type of large-scale battery storage unit capable of storing electricity generated by wind, Briggs said. If commercially viable, it was hoped that the battery storage technology would attract interest from wind developers and possibly a business to manufacture the batteries.
Briggs said the project fell through after the company went through bankruptcy reorganization.
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