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No Easy Fix for Broken Wind Turbine at US High School

It's status quo for the Portsmouth High School wind turbine. On Monday night, town planner Gary Crosby informed the Town Council that negotiations ceased with two possible developers interested in fixing or replacing the 336-foot-high turbine, which has been broken since June 2012.

The council allowed Crosby to issue a formal request to seek other bidders for the project.

The town is considering three options: replace the turbine’s broken gearbox; replace the entire turbine with a new, more reliable model; and take down the turbine and sell if for scrap.

“We’re asking to review the process and start again,” Crosby said.

Without the revenue from the sale of electricity, the town is still paying two loans for construction of the turbine. Quarterly interest payments of $4,983 are paid toward the $2.6 million Clean Renewable Energy bond. A principal payment of $173,333 is also due Dec. 15 for the bond.

A $400,000 loan from the state Economic Development Corpration is due a principal payment of $26,380 and interest payment of $3,079 on June 15.

When running, the wind turbine earned the town about $160,000.

Removing and replacing the gearbox costs some $780,000. It would likely require the town to maintain ownership of the turbine and make the debt payments. 

Selling the turbine to a developer would likely mean the new owner would make the interest payments, with little to no revenue heading to the town.

Scrapping the turbine, which Crosby has called the “nuclear option,” would only generate a small, one-time payment from the sale of the scrap metal, and likely leave the town with a large portion of the debt.

There was little discussion by the Town Council or from the public at the May 13 meeting. “I think we’ve got to look over every stone in the landscape before we get to it,” council President James Seveney said.

The 1.5-megawatt turbine was commissioned in March 2009. The turbine had a 20-year life expectancy but was shut down June 18, 2012, after the gearbox showed significant wear. An independent investigation blamed the damage on a faulty gearbox. The gearbox, however, was no longer covered by warranty, and the manufacturer of the turbine, AAER Wind Energy of Quebec, is no longer in business. Three of five turbines of the same make and model erected in California and Templeton, Mass., also suffered gearbox failure.

The manufacturer of the gearboxes, Jahnel Kestermann of Germany, had offered to sell two replacement gearboxes to the town for $203,000. It would cost the town an additional $407,000 to remove the old gearbox and install a new one. The two-for-one deal, however, no longer exists.

Crosby said at least one developer is interested in responding to the new request for proposal.

This article was originally published on ecoRI News and was republished with permission.

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