More Bids in for Broken Portsmouth Wind Turbine

July 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PORTSMOUTH — The Town Council will have at least two options at its Aug. 26 meeting to consider for addressing the broken wind turbine at the high school.

One option involves paying some $500,000 to remove and repair the turbine’s faulty gearbox, plus an annual fee of about $38,000 to a company to operate and manage the turbine. Once the turbine is running, the town would receive all revenue from the sale of electricity. The contract would last about five years.

The other proposal involves replacing the entire upper portion of the 336-foot-high turbine with a new nacelle and blades. The nacelle houses all of the mechanical components such as the gearbox and generator. The new nacelle would have a gearless, direct-drive system. A public-private partnership between the town and an operation and maintenance company would divide the revenue.

Town planner Gary Crosby said a third bid was also submitted by the July 19 deadline. The offer, however, was handwritten and required additional consideration. Crosby plans to negotiate financial terms with the two bidders before the next Town Council meeting.

The town has some $2.3 million in debt from the construction of the turbine, which includes a municipal bond offering and a grant from the Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

Crosby described the turbine at the high school as an asset, meaning it should have value to a wind developer or operations company. During its three years of operation, the turbine generated some $300,000 of revenue annually, netting $160,000 for the town each year.

Other bidders, however, haven’t found a way to make the repair-or-replace project profitable. This is the third and likely final round of RFPs the town has offered since the turbine was shutdown June 18, 2012 because of a faulty gearbox.

“I think it’s the last road for this (project),” Crosby said.

If the latest proposals aren’t acceptable, the fate of the turbine may lead to the “nuclear option,” or the scrap yard, Crosby said. “Sell it as is and pay off the debt with tax revenue,” he said.

The town would likely have “egg on our face” for losing money and tarnishing wind-energy development, Crosby said. The project, however, was economically sound, he said, as the now-bankrupt manufacturer, AAER Wind Energy of Bromont, Quebec, deserves most of the blame.

AAER went out of business in 2010, a year after the turbine was commissioned. Three of five turbines of the same make and model — two in California and one Templeton, Mass. — also suffered gearbox failure. The turbine and gearbox had a 20-year life expectancy.

“This is a unique situation,” Crosby said. “We bought a bum machine from a bum company and the hardware failed.”

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