The bird-friendly wind turbines that were to power the offices of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in far Western Alaska are in a pile on the ground on the Alaska Peninsula. And more than 600 miles to the northeast in Anchorage, engineer John Lyons, project manager for a renewable energy project turned nightmare, wishes he’d never heard of a Texas company called Tangarie Alternative Power.
“Tan-gary,” as Lyons pronounces it, was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s pick to supply the wind generators for an Izmbek power project green-flagged by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, President Barack Obama’s attempt to jump-start a faltering national economy.
At a cost of $3.4 million, Alaska Business Monthly reported four years ago, “The (Izembek) project represents the largest ARRA investment in Alaska.”
Company filed for bankruptcy
Alternative energy was a big component of the president’s stimulus package. It has come under fire from conservative critics, who point to fraud and failure as the government scrambled to make federal money available.
“Solyndra, the solar panel company whose highly publicized failure and consequent investigation by federal authorities has generated headlines, isn’t the only business to go belly up after benefiting from a piece of the $800 billion economic stimulus package passed in 2009,” Fox News reported in the fall of 2011. “At least four other companies have received stimulus funding only to later file for bankruptcy, and two of those were working on alternative energy.”
Tangarie appears destined to join those companies. It has filed for bankruptcy as the Fish and Wildlife Service and others that bought its turbines scramble to find alternative energy systems that work. And in Alaska, at least, Tangarie’s spiraling, upright, vertical-axis helical turbines have never really worked.
The longest any ever ran was “120 consecutive days,” said Larry Bell, assistant regional director for Alaska Region of Fish and Wildlife. That was back when parts and technical advice were still available from the company now out of business.
Company gates padlocked
The factory gates in Vernon, Texas, were padlocked in March. Folks in the southern state are not happy, according to a report in the Times Record News of Wichita Falls, Texas.
The Times Record report indicates Tangarie owners John and Dede Besold appear to have received more than $1.5 million in support from state and local business-development groups to get into the turbine business. The company produced about 50 wind turbines before it folded.
Lyons, an employee of Marsh Creek LLC in Anchorage, does not mince words on his feelings bout the Besolds. “They should be in jail, really,” he said.
Tangarie’s unique and problem-plagued wind turbines, which aren’t much bigger in width than the poles atop which they spin, were taken down by Marsh Creek and placed on the ground for fear parts might fly off and cause damage in the community of Cold Bay.
Marsh Creek is an Alaska Native company owned jointly by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation and SolstenXP. Katovik Inupiat is the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act business that represents the residents of the Beaufort Sea village of Kaktovik at the northern edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Solsten is an oilfield services company that started working for Amerada Hess in the Beaufort in 1993.
A Small Business Administration certified 8(a) Alaska Native Corporation, Marsh Creek began in the construction business in 2004 and expanded into environmental and alternative-energy operations.
It was awarded a contract to install the Tangarie turbines at Izembek and link them to an energy storage system utilizing waste heat to create hot water to warm USFWS buildings. The energy-storage side of the project works well, Lyons said, but on the power side “we’re caught in the Tangarie wake of destruction and despair.”
Initial raves for wind turbines
Eleven Tangarie turbines were originally shipped north to the 49th state. The Fish and Wildlife Service raved about them in a 2010 press release.
“Wind power is coming to two remote Alaska refuges thanks to millions of dollars of federal stimulus money,” it said. “Work is under way to install the Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs) to generate electricity at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Cold Bay and Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge in King Salmon.
“Both of the refuges are important to migratory birds. With that in mind, the project consists of 11 vertical wind turbines configured to minimize bird strikes. The birds see the vertical turbines as solid objects and therefore avoid them.”
The turbines have minimized bird strikes in Western Alaska, all right, but mainly because they have spent so little time spinning. A big part of the problem, Lyons said, was that the VAWTs, though supposedly rated to withstand winds up to 130 mph, couldn’t cope with the howling gales that sweep the Alaska Peninsula.
“Just Google ‘Tangarie,'” Lyons said.
A quick Google search found a Tangarie windmill taken down by a 45 mph gust in Ellensberg, Wash. Other Tangarie VAWTs appear to be inoperable. Some technical writers even question the whole idea behind VAWTs.
“Vertical axis wind machines have been around for a long time, about 3,000 years,” wrote Dan Chiras in Mother Earth News. “The reason you see so few of them is that they’ve failed miserably.” Despite this, the USFWS and Marsh Creek are still trying at Izembek.
“We’re a stand-up company,” Lyons said. “We’re not going to leave the government holding the bag.”
Marsh Creek has found a Canadian company – SkyVertical Technologies Ltd. Kelso – that makes a similar but different vertical axis turbine. Marsh Creek plans to put those turbines into operation at Izembek.
“This has really hurt our company,” Lyons said, “but we aren’t going to let the project fail. We hope to have the (new) turbines up and running by the end of June or July. For us, this (project) is mostly about the integration.
“This was very much a science project.”
Turbines for sale
“Integration” is the buzzword for wind-power projects around the country. Everyone is trying to find new ways to store wind energy, so that when the wind stops blowing there is still some way to generate heat or power.
Hot water is one idea. Using electricity from windmills to pump water into a reserve that can then be tapped for hydropower when the wind dies is another. Lyons said Marsh Creek has toyed with the idea of compressed air, which could be stored in tanks or underground when turbines are spinning and then unleashed to spin different turbines if the winds go calm.
Meanwhile, he said, the company hopes to be able to minimize its losses on the Izembek project by salvaging the Tangarie turbines, refurbishing them, and offering them for sale.
“We are going to try to sell them,” he said. “The generators are fine. It’s the sails themselves that were the problem.”
Production oversight on the sails was so bad that when they first arrived in Alaska they couldn’t be bolted together, he said. Marsh Creek had to get an Anchorage machine shop to make new couplings to hold the pieces in place. The whole project sounds like it has been something of a train wreck from the start, but Lyons considers that part of the fun.
“We’re a bunch of engineers,” he said. “It’s a challenge. Marsh Creek is going to make good on this, though it isn’t going to help us financially.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding