Work is underway at St. Cloud VA Health Care System to repair a wind turbine that’s been idle for most of the past 12 months.
But those efforts were hindered by the latest in a string of setbacks this week when a replacement gearbox for the turbine, expected to get the machine working as soon as this week, was discovered to have been damaged during shipment from India.
But the damage shouldn’t significantly delay the repair timeline, St. Cloud VA Health Care System public affairs officer Barry Venable said Friday. The damage should be able to be repaired on-site.
VA officials hope the turbine will be generating power again as soon as next week, depending in part on wind conditions that can slow repair work.
It’s the latest development in the ongoing effort to bring the turbine up to speed after more than two years of false starts. The 250-foot-tall turbine that looms near Minnesota Highway 15 has made the issue all the more noticeable.
The turbine has been out of operation for all but about one hour since August 2012 and has operated only about 20 percent of the time since it was installed in 2011, Venable said.
VA officials haven’t revealed how much, if any, of the turbine’s $2.3 million construction cost has been paid to the contractor for the project, Massachusetts-based JK Scanlan Co. A Times request for that information submitted this week to a national VA office wasn’t answered by Friday.
St. Cloud VA officials couldn’t immediately confirm Friday if the VA system is incurring additional costs for the repair work that’s underway.
The mounting frustration of St. Cloud VA officials was evident Wednesday at the turbine site. A crew with a massive crane couldn’t work on the turbine due to high winds that day. And a hulking, blue replacement gearbox sat untouched after VA officials had just learned it had been damaged in shipment.
It wasn’t an unprecedented development. The original construction of the turbine also was delayed after its blades were damaged in shipment.
The new gearbox, which transfers power from the turbine’s blades to its generator, was ordered after a subcontractor diagnosed it as the key faulty component in the turbine, said Bill LaFerriere, assistant chief engineer at the St. Cloud VA.
Up to this point, Venable said, the turbine “has not performed up to any minimal set of expectations.”
“We’ve worked really hard from our perspective to relay our dissatisfaction with the performance of this turbine,” Venable said. “We want to make sure the proper value is obtained for the public’s investment.”
The 600-kilowatt turbine had been projected to generate 15 percent of the electricity used at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System when it went online.
Funded through a federal stimulus grant, the turbine was intended to help the VA comply with a law that requires federal agencies to generate at least 7.5 percent of the energy they use from renewable sources by 2013.
Venable acknowledged the “cumbersome,” regulation-laden federal acquisition process has slowed repairs. But he noted that federal contracting guidelines are so dense in part to ensure taxpayer dollars are handled with care.
While issues with the turbine have dragged on the past two years, Venable says the center’s core mission hasn’t been affected.
“While the turbine is a very visible symbol, our focus has continued to remain on taking care of veterans,” Venable said.
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