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Port Angeles wind turbine spires turning; design, not power, main point

PORT ANGELES – After six months of standing motionless, the city’s $107,517 wind turbine spires are finally spinning.

They are ready to generate an estimated $1.85 a day in electricity but, more importantly, are actively adding a pleasing visual ingredient to West End Park, a city official said.

City Manager Dan McKeen said the curved blades on the three vertical turbines began turning Wednesday as the city ended a safety-inspection dispute with the spires’ manufacturer, Urban Green Energy Inc. of New York City.

“When things get resolved, I am always happy,” McKeen said.

“They are an architectural element of the park, and I know there are different people with differing opinions on that, but it was always my understanding that they are an architectural element of the park that actually provided some demonstration of power generation, but they were not anticipated to be a major power generator of any kind,” he said.

“There are certain artistic features that cost a whole lot more than the wind spires did that could have been used.

“They added an architectural element and they served a demonstration purpose.”

Craig Fulton, city public works and utilities director, said Thursday that the renewable energy company had stopped communicating with the city about the impasse.

“We weren’t getting a response, so we moved forward to get these online,” he said.

Company officials did not return a call for comment Thursday afternoon.

So the $3,100 cost of inspection was split between the city and project contractor Primo Construction Inc. of Sequim, Fulton said.

“We were surprised they had a certified inspector ready to go,” he said. “It came together rather quickly.”

He said the disagreement with Urban Green Energy was over whether the turbines needed to be inspected by Underwriters’ Laboratories or be inspected under the Washington Administrative Code.

The three turbine-spires were erected in September.

“They’ve had the ability to operate months ago, but due to the safety certification, we had to keep them offline,” Fulton said.

Fulton said the city wanted Urban Green Energy to have the equipment inspected by Underwriters’ Laboratories Inc. of Northbrook, Ill.

But that was “much, much more expensive” than having it inspected under the Washington Administrative Code, Fulton said.

Fulton said city officials preferred that Urban Green Energy arrange the inspection.

A field evaluation of the equipment was performed Wednesday according to the requirements of the Washington Administrative Code, Fulton said.

Nathan West, city community and economic development director, told the Peninsula Daily News on Dec. 9 that the turbines would generate an average of $1.85 worth of electricity a day and would operate at 33 percent of peak usage.

Fulton said Thursday the power the turbines generate is fed into the Bonneville Power Administration power grid and is intended to help offset the cost of lighting the park.

Generating electricity to make money has never been the spires’ primary purpose, West said Dec. 9.

McKeen and Fulton reiterated that this week.

“Having this being a money-making piece of equipment has never been the intent,” Fulton said.

“It’s definitely an architectural feature and environmentally conscious and ensuring green energy is worked into many of our projects.”

Fulton said Thursday he did not have an estimate of how much of the park’s electricity requirements will be covered by power generated from the turbines. Nor did he have maintenance costs for the turbines.

City Power Systems Manager Shailesh Shere told the Peninsula Daily News in a Dec. 9 email that considering the harsh, salty-air environment of the city’s shoreline, the spires might not last 25 years.

“The maintenance cost over 25 years is [an] unpredictable factor,” Shere said.

The turbines’ purchase was made possible by a $285,952 Clallam County Opportunity Fund grant to the city, West said in a memo to the city council for its Oct. 6, 2015, decision to purchase the turbines.

The park, built mostly with government grants, was opened a month later.

Councilman Lee Whetham said Thursday he would not have voted for the spires in October 2015 if he knew what he knows now.

“When it came before the city council, it was presented that this particular portion of the project would take care of the electrical needs, the lighting of the beaches down there, and that’s as far as I got into it,” he said.

“If I had known what the electrical requirements were for this project versus the cost of the architectural details, I wouldn’t have been in favor.

“It has an architectural element, but that’s not why I voted for it.”

At the same time, Whetham said, he did not regret his vote.

“We can’t live our lives looking in the rear-view mirror,” he said.