Riley County’s wind turbine conundrum has shown itself to be a great example of the notion that nothing is free.
The county government installed turbines in 2011 through a federal grant meant to encourage Kansas communities to use renewable energy. The grant covered the cost of the turbines as well as a five-year maintenance plan, but that money has since run out.
Now the county faces a hefty bill to continue repairing the machines – or a hefty bill to take them down.
Public works director Leon Hobson said the largest of the three – the Northwind – could save the county some money if officials keep maintaining it. That turbine saves the county about $15,000 per year in electricity costs. Maintenance is expected to cost nearly $11,000 this year and around $8,000 over next few years. The midsized one would likely break even on cost, and the county is losing money on the smallest. (Officials at the meeting didn’t even mention a fourth turbine that had problems from the start. The county gave up trying to fix it years ago.)
Commissioners suggested removing turbines, but that, too, comes at a price: about $20,000. Officials hope that an interested party might want the turbines and cover the cost of removal, which seems like a good option at this point.
Projects like this are meant to be educational – some kind of demonstration to the public. But the only thing the county has really demonstrated so far is that these things don’t work.
At this point, commissioners need only to do basic math calculations to make a decision. Is there a net gain? If so, keep them. If not, get rid of them.
That likely means keeping only the biggest of the three turbines.
Just for the sake of discussion, here’s the overall math equation: The three turbines over five years are estimated to save $83,000 in electricity costs – if they’re working properly the whole time.
The company that submitted a bid for maintenance said that with all costs, including $2,500 per year budgeted for repairs, the company would charge the county $84,174.
So the county loses about $1,000 total if it keeps and maintains all the turbines and nothing major goes wrong.
That said, the county ought to plan for the worst. In 2014, officials decided to cancel insurance on the turbines, and lightning struck one of the turbines just a few weeks later. Repairs were estimated at between $15,000 and $25,000, and that money came from the public works fund.
It’s time for the county to cut its losses.
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