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Conneaut council fed up with disfigured turbine

CONNEAUT – City Council in Conneaut is losing patience with the energy company that owns a wind turbine severely damaged by lightning nearly four months ago.

At Monday night’s work session, some members said they believe NexGen Energy of Boulder, Colorado, is in violation of its contract to supply some of the electricity used at the municipal sewage treatment plant. A 400-kilowatt turbine erected next to the plant in January 2010 lost a blade and saw its generator completely fried by a lightning strike at the end of February.

NexGen estimates the cost of repair at $250,000. Earlier this month, the company said it would need a 10-year extension to the contract set to expire in 2020 to make a repair project financially feasible. Conneaut is presently in the seventh year of the original 10-year contract.

The proposal has angered some council members, who say repairs to equipment is sometimes the price of doing business. Ward 4 Councilman Thomas Kozesky said he could possibly understand NexGen’s stance “in the early years of the contract.”

“Now they’re holding that over our heads,” he said.

Councilman-at-large Jon Arcaro also bristled at NexGen’s stance, calling it “heavy-handed, hardball tactics.”

“They’re not fulfilling the contract by not repairing the turbine,” he said.

Arcaro also said it appears the turbine may not be the most cost-effective method to help power the treatment plant. Information from the city finance office shows Direct Energy, which has been filling the electricity void since the turbine became idle, is presently charging a generation/distribution charge about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour lower than NexGen’s rate.

“I’m concerned how much money (the turbine) has been costing,” Arcaro said.

The turbine provides about 20 percent of the electricity used at the plant, officials have said.

Ward 2 Councilman Phil Garcia said he is concerned that NexGen is not pursuing repairs. “It’s an eyesore right now,” he said.

Council President Nic Church said he’s seen enough.

“It seems to me (NexGen) is dragging their feet,” he said. “They can take the thing out, but that’s me. It seems to me they would’ve jumped on getting this thing fixed. My worry is it’s going to sit there for 10 years with a broken blade.”

NexGen has made one lightning-related repair already to the turbine, replacing a blade when it was blasted by lightning in August 2011. At that time, repairs were made within five months of the damage.

The turbine was erected in January 2010.

City Manager James Hockaday, who this month said he liked the concept of a turbine, pointed out NexGen’s previous repair at the Monday meeting. He also told council NexGen is not being paid until the turbine is operational.

“If they’re dragging their feet, it’s to their own detriment,” he said.

Ward 1 Councilman Doug Hedrick said asked if there a chance the NexGen proposal could be renegotiated. “I love the idea of green energy,” he said.

Hockaday said talks are on-going, but could take time to complete. “Contractual negotiations take a long time,” he said.

If NexGen’s final offer isn’t feasible, the city can step out of the contract and the turbine will be disassembled at the company’s cost, officials have said.

“We want to make sure we reach a sound financial decision,” he said.

NexGen has not responded to emails seeking comment.