PORT ANGELES – Three windmill-like turbines loom motionless over the city of Port Angeles’ new Waterfront Park.
The $107,516 spires stand immobile more than two months after they were erected and more than a year after the city council approved them.
Once they are working to generate electricity, they will produce so little power – $1.50 worth of electricity a month in savings – that at least one council member is regretting her decision to purchase them.
They have not been activated because the city is involved in an inspection-related dispute with the manufacturer, UGE International Ltd. of New York City, Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West said last week.
The impasse could be resolved by January, after projects with a higher priority are taken care of, West said.
The turbines will power the 31 lights that illuminate the park, Deputy Power Systems Manager Shailesh Shere said last week.
They can generate up to 3 kilowatts an hour but under normal conditions will generate a quarter of that, Shere said.
Shere said they are expected to generate $1.50 worth of electricity a month, based on current retail Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) rates.
City Councilwoman Sissi Bruch said last week the turbines were intended to do more than generate electricity.
“They were also meant to educate folks about wind power,” she said.
But Bruch regretted joining the council’s unanimous decision in 2015 to approve the purchase.
“These are not giving us the quantity of energy that we would use, that we would want,” she said.
“I did not realize they would produce so little energy. I wouldn’t have voted for it knowing it was that little.
“I do appreciate the educational component, but I really had hoped we were going to get a little more out of them.”
The turbines will illuminate the park with safety lighting for about $1.25 a month of the $1.50 that will be generated, putting the remaining 25 cents of power back into the BPA grid, which the city will get paid for, Shere said.
The turbines will produce about $24,145 of electricity over the depreciable 25-year life of the equipment, he estimated.
The return on investment is over 50 years.
“Considering the harsh [salty] environment, the equipment may not last 25 years,” Shere said Friday in an email.
“Also, the maintenance cost over 25 years is [an] unpredictable factor.”
The wind spires were not intended to generate enough revenue to pay back the cost, West said.
“When the project was underway, one of the top five council priorities for economic development was alternative energy,” he said.
The council approved the purchase Oct. 6, 2015, as part of a $221,857 change order under a $1.3 million contract with Primo Construction Inc. of Sequim for Phase 2 of the park.
Olympic Electric Co. of Port Angeles subcontracted on the wind-turbine portion of the agreement, West said.
Then-Councilwoman Cherie Kidd, who is now the deputy mayor, made the motion approving the purchase during a meeting that did not include discussion of how much electricity the turbines would generate.
“Now, we have the waterfront of our future, right now,” Kidd said in making the motion.
Kidd did not return calls for comment about the project Thursday and Friday.
Councilman Lee Whetham said last week he did not recall any discussion of the value of electricity generated by the project.
If it does generate $1.50 worth of power a month, “that’s a boondoggle,” Whetham said.
The project, he added, “made sense at the time.”
Phil Lusk, who retired earlier this year as former deputy director of power systems, said last week he recommended in 2015 that the turbines not be installed.
He said he was concerned about their efficiency and structural stability.
The funding for the project “would be better spent on something other than on installing these wind machines,” he said.
“My fundamental objection to these is that they are not cost-effective and it’s a waste of money.
“I was told that the decision was made years before, during the planning phase, and that [city officials] were not going to change their minds.”
Mayor Patrick Downie, who was deputy mayor in October 2015, said some residents have grumbled about the turbines just sitting stationary.
“A number of people have spoken to me to say it’s a shame they are there and not working,” he said.
He did not recall ever getting information on how much electricity the project would generate.
But he did not regret voting for it.
“Let’s not be so quick to be critical before they even work,” Downie said.
“Maybe we’ll discover that if we had another three somewhere else down there on the waterfront, we could begin to generate something, and it might become more meaningful.
“I still like the notion that we are using new technologies here and that some [electricity] may be going back into the grid.”
The purchase was made possible by a $285,952 Clallam County Opportunity Fund grant that allowed installation of the turbines, sod and additional landscaping, West said in his memo to the council for its Oct. 6, 2015, decision.
For now, city officials are wrestling with UGE International Ltd., the manufacturer, over a safety inspection of the turbines.
The inspection must be conducted by Underwriters’ Laboratories Inc. of Northbrook, Ill., and must occur before the turbines are turned on, West said.
UGE should have had the equipment tested before it was installed, West said.
Company representatives from UGE’s marketing and public relations department did not return calls for comment Friday.
The Waterfront Park, which includes artificial beaches, was opened at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Oak Street in September 2015, a month before the turbines were approved.
They have been a component of planning for the park since at least 2011, West said.
“Staff is working to ensure the manufacturer and contractor are held to the completion of their responsibilities,” he said Friday in an email.
“By implementing the latest in wind energy technology, the city would set a trend in alternative energy innovation that sets a positive example and speaks to the city wanting to be part of state-of-the-art alternative energy technology.
“Collectively the park is intended to inspire community pride, enjoyment, and a vibrancy that for many years Port Angeles had been without.”
The park was mostly grant-funded, West added.
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