PORTSMOUTH – You may have wondered what that man was doing on top of the town’s broken wind turbine today.
“Today was our day for a big inspection,” explained Town Planner Gary Crosby. “We’re trying to decide whether to fix the turbine or take it down. The company that we have selected to go ahead with it – if that’s what we do – has given us some quotes on doing the work. But we decided what we really needed to do ahead of time was a full-blown inspection of the turbine.”
Voters approved a $3 million bond issue in 2007 for the turbine, which sits behind the tennis courts at the high school. It’s been idle since June 2012 due to a broken gear box, and the town has been weighing its options ever since.
The town is in private negotiations with an as-yet unnamed company in hopes of getting the blades spinning again. (The town received four responses to its first request for proposals (RFPs) back in December 2012, but negotiations with the two companies the town deemed worthy of consideration broke down. The current negotiations are the result of a more recently advertised RFP.)
Mr. Crosby said the company with which the town is negotiating is conducting the inspection at the town’s expense. However, the town’s wind turbine consultant, Don Roberts, is overseeing things in case there are any questions of a conflict of interest, he said.
The inspection is important, Mr. Crosby said, because the town doesn’t want to be surprised by a faulty blade or any other malfunctioning part besides the gear box.
“They are giving the turbine very high marks,” the planner said. “They’re saying it’s in remarkably good shape considering how long it’s been sitting there.”
Mr. Crosby said he believed the inspection would be completed today (Thursday) but it’s possible it will continue Friday.
After that, it will be up to the Town Council to decide whether the town should borrow money to fix the turbine or take it down, he said.
Mr. Crosby said personally, he’d like to see the turbine fixed, but that he was speaking for himself and not necessarily for the Town of Portsmouth.
“I think it would be really disastrous for us to take it down for a number of reasons,” he said. “Our taxpayers would have to continue to pay the loan off, plus it wouldn’t be good for the wind industry as a whole to have a failed project like this.”
However, he said, if the town does borrow money to replace the gear box and get the turbine running again, the operation won’t be the money-maker that it originally set out to be. Any revenue generated will go toward the hired company’s operations and maintenance and to pay off the debt owed on the turbine. The rest will go into a “self-insurance fund” in case anything else goes wrong with the turbine.
“There’s not going to be any money going into the schools or the general fund; it will all go into self-insurance,” Mr. Crosby said. “We’ll have to make an annual contribution to that fund going forward to have a significant amount of money in order to replace a blade” or make any other repairs.
The town has some “pro forma” work still to do, he said, but depending on the outcome of the inspection, Mr. Crosby expects to make a recommendation to the Town Council “quite soon.”
213 above ground
On Thursday, one of the inspectors was seen checking things out atop the nacelle of the turbine, which is 213 above ground (it’s 330 feet to the tip of the blade).
When it was still running, Mr. Crosby once climbed to the top of the turbine himself and took in the spectacular views.
“It’s pretty amazing. Climbing a ladder 213 feet straight up is not an easy task,” he said. “The turbine monkeys were climbing all around, but I was so nervous I just barely stuck half of my torso out of the hatch.”
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