The city of Conneaut’s two (currently non-functional) wind turbines were meant to be a public relations move, a symbol that showed the city was embracing the future and alternative energy. But with one turbine next to Conneaut Middle School that has never worked, and now the second on the lakefront damaged, the question becomes whether these turbines have become symbols of failure and if the city should walk away from them.
The 400-kilowatt lakefront turbine built in 2010 was hit by lightning in February, severely damaging a blade. The turbine owner, NexGen Energy, says it needs a long-term renewal of its contract with the city before it would be willing to take on repairs it says will cost $250,000. The city currently has a contract with NexGen that runs through 2020 obliging the city to purchase a portion of electricity generated by the turbine. The city says if no contract extension is reached, it would request NexGen disassemble and remove the turbine.
We fully embrace alternative energy and firmly believe a combination of sources such as wind and solar power will eventually be part of a future less reliant on fossil fuels. But when cities go down this path, they must be certain the economics – and optics – support it.
The truth is, anytime a company wants to build a wind farm it is inevitably met with local resistance. Some property owners may carry legitimate concerns but many others believe a variety of wild myths about the turbines. Conneaut does not have a wind farm, in fact at the moment all it has are two tall poles – the 600-kilowatt turbine by Conneaut Middle School hasn’t worked in eight years and NexGen has been involved in a prolonged legal battle with the manufacturer since 2013 and won’t do repairs until the lawsuit is resolved.
It would be one thing if both turbines were operational and the city’s PR move had been a smashing success that highlighted the prospects of renewable energy, but unfortunately that has not been the case. And it is projects like these, which have clearly not gone forward as planned, that give ammunition to naysayers who claim renewables are not the future.
We also can’t feel good about any company that says it cannot afford to fix something unless its contract is extended. Generally that is bad business, and in this case indicates the economics don’t seem to support continued operation. NexGen should not need to be incentivized to repair its own equipment with two and a half years left on the current contract.
There is always risk when embracing innovation, but failures that devolve into potential laughing stocks – and having two non-working turbines in the city comes close – can set important movements back by years. While what has happened is certainly not the city’s fault, it is time for Conneaut to move on and invest its time, money and energy in a different direction.
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