For over a year, Bayonne’s wind turbine has been out of operation. In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Director of Municipal Services Tim Boyle said the issue is a “bad generator.”
According to Boyle, it’s not clear how what repair costs would be. The city is currently negotiating with the manufacturer of the turbine, Leitner-Poma of America.
Boyle said the city has had issues with the nearly $5.6 million turbine before, costing an average of approximately $25,000 in potential energy savings each month it is out of commission. While the turbine had a manufacturer’s warranty, it expired after one year.
In 2015, just three years after it was installed, a bearing that was part of the turbine’s generator broke. It was replaced with a new bearing in 2016, and as part of that process, the turbine’s three massive blades were removed and reattached.
Months later in 2016, a rotor brake part stopped working, which normally prevents the blades from spinning uncontrollably in high winds. Crews from Leitner-Poma repaired it within about a month. The two breakdowns cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and missed energy savings.
At that time, Boyle said, the root of the problem was maintenance of the turbine and the associated contract with Leitner-Poma. Boyle said the contract with Leitner-Poma for necessary annual repairs and upkeep could have been better. As a result, the terms were renegotiated, and the contract rose from approximately $60,000 a year to approximately $100,000.
But renegotiating the contract didn’t solve anything; the generator started having problems again. This time, this issue is not a bearing in the generator, “it’s the generator overall.”
“When it broke down again, we asked them to come in and fix it,” Boyle said. “Their claim is that what is wrong with the unit is not covered under the maintenance contract.”
Boyle pushed back against the manufacturer, citing the renegotiated “ironclad” contract. But Leitner-Poma insists the issue was not covered.
“It’s very much like getting a lemon before there was a lemon law for cars,” Boyle said. “Here we have this very expensive asset, worth quite a bit of money, that just this year should have paid itself off.”
As a result, the city is involved in negotiations with Leitner-Poma to determine who is responsible for the repairs. If Leitner-Poma is found responsible under the maintenance contract, then it would cover the cost, and the city won’t have to pay a thing. If the city is responsible, the cost would have be covered by the city out of pocket.
“There is no pathway, no clear court that I can grab these guys by the scruff of the neck and drag them into who will deal with these kinds of things,” Boyle said. “At some point in time there may well be a lemon law for turbines, but right now there is not. And that leads us nowhere.”
Looking for other suitors
Because of the history of trouble with Leitner-Poma, the city is also in negotiations with three or four other entities that could step in and take over. They include Green Development, Nexus, Fluid Tech and Intercon, among others Boyle said.
“We’re not going to go back into a deal that’s ridiculous for the people of Bayonne,” Boyle said. “An asset like this should be bringing us clean, free, energy for the next 15 years or so. These things generally operate 20 to 30 years before encountering the problems that we started having in the first five years.”
Right now, city attorneys are negotiating with Leitner-Poma attorneys to see if they can come to a deal and “settle out.” The turbine is supposed to generate a maximum of $325,000 per year in energy savings but is currently generating $0 while costing nearly $100,000 yearly for the maintenance contract.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Boyle said. “This thing hasn’t worked in over a year. It’s also a big deal for them. They care tremendously about their reputation.”
Not abandoning turbine technology
Boyle said that while this turbine has problems, that doesn’t mean the city is done with the technology altogether.
“When you get a lemon car, you don’t just give up on cars,” Boyle said. “You have to deal with the lemon that you have. Then you get a new car.”
The city is looking at possibly changing the type of turbine.
“The type of turbine that’s there now could be removed, and we could put in a different turbine, probably on the same tower,” Boyle said. “We could make a switch and get away from this product we’re having so many problems with.”
The type of turbine would be consistent with others that could be installed in the city. According to Boyle, the city has several other locations for sustainable energy sources, including additional turbines.
“If we can have five, or six, or ten, or 15 other units in the area, then we can severely drive down the cost of maintenance, which is killing us,” Boyle said.
Offsetting maintenance costs
Additional turbines could counteract the excessive cost of the maintenance contract, according to Boyle.
“We would have a similar product that some of these other entities are looking at,” Boyle said. “If we could wind up with five or six of the same type of machine in town, that would certainly drive down the maintenance costs for anybody involved.”
Boyle underscored his frustration with the state of the turbine, since the project was supposed to be a money-saver that was being pushed by the state at the time of its inception.
“We got a seven- or eight-million-dollar asset for a fraction of the money,” Boyle said. “We have every intention of getting [the turbine] working again and operating because it’s so young. You don’t give up on cars and go back and buy a mule, you get a car that works better.”
There isn’t a timeline for the negotiations, according to Boyle. Meanwhile, the turbine’s giant blades are at a standstill.
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