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Concerns raised as turbines remain idle

Frustration over the months-long outage of Willmar Municipal Utilities’ two wind turbines surfaced during Monday’s Utilities Commission meeting.

The two turbines have been out of service after an electrical breaker at the base of each turbine failed this summer. Each breaker weighs about 200 pounds.

Commission Vice President Matt Schrupp, presiding in the absence of President Steve Salzer, said he had talked to Utilities General Manager Wesley Hompe last Friday. Schrupp said there’s a lot of concern from the perspective of both the utilities and the public about the turbines.

“We do get a lot of comments,’’ said Schrupp. “It’s definitely changing from just comments about it to concerns. And we need to continue to make sure we’re putting out best foot forward and getting things done as quickly as we can because I’m getting a lot of concern from people about the viability and the function of the turbines.’’

Hompe and Electric Production Supervisor Jon Folkedahl discussed the difficulties they have had in trying to communicate with DeWind corporate headquarters in California and determine when replacement breakers will arrive. The equipment and repairs are covered under warranty.

Hompe said the hope was that a technician from DeWind’s engineering office in Germany will be in Willmar next week help install the breakers. Folkedahl said the latest information he received from the technician “indicates we still are on that schedule.’’

Folkedahl said the schedule calls for the breakers to arrive in the United States on Nov. 4, but he did not have a firm date on when the breakers will arrive in Willmar.

Folkedahl said communication has been a little bit difficult with DeWind recently and he has been unable to find out the exact shipment path to Willmar or even the shipping company or the tracking number.

Commissioner Jeff Nagel asked if the utility would benefit from handling the shipping itself rather than DeWind.

Hompe said DeWind is covering the repairs and equipment under warranty.

“I’m not sure I would be able to identify a benefit to be able to take over that piece of the whole operation and what affect it may have on our warranty requirements,’’ he said.

“But we do have a clause in the warranty (that) if they are unable to or unwilling to do the work, we will tell them we’ll take over that piece. Because it has been scheduled, they are satisfying their end right now. It wouldn’t make sense for us to try to order a piece they’ve already scheduled for shipping,’’ Hompe said.

“But like Matt said, we do need to keep in mind where we’re at with that contract, where we are with this warranty and making sure that they are doing what they say they’re going to do,’’ Hompe said. “We’re spending some time reviewing the details of the contract to make sure we’re ready to do the next step in case that happens.’’

Commissioner Dan Holtz said it seems like it’s taken a long time to break through on communications with DeWind. He asked if there’s an issue of solvency with DeWind. Hompe said DeWind has been owned during the past three years by Daewoo of South Korea, the world’s second-largest shipbuilder.

“We’re trying to determine why we haven’t gotten the response that we feel it deserved,’’ Hompe said. “Yes, it’s extremely frustrating. But I do not see solvency as an issue. We haven’t been able to dig into that piece either to find out if that’s the case.’’

Bruce DeBlieck, City Council liaison to the commission, asked if the matter has been turned over to the city attorney.

“We are working on that right now,’’ said Hompe.

Also covered under warranty is Willmar’s claim against DeWind for revenue resulting from lost electrical production due to breakdowns during the past four years. The claim was sent in early September and the utility has not yet received a response from DeWind on that, according to Hompe.