Settlement OK'd from wind turbine maker 2013.11.20

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

The saga of Fayette's troublesome wind turbine is moving toward an end, but Superintendent of Schools Erik Belcher hopes it isn't over yet. 

A cash settlement from the turbine manufacturer was accepted by board members at a special meeting Friday, but Belcher is looking for additional funds from other partners involved in the turbine project.

The turbine manufacturer, Netherlands-based Wind Energy Solutions (WES), offered Fayette Local Schools 222,000 euros to buy back the turbine, tower and associated equipment, and up to 7,500 euros to pay for disassembling the turbine and tower and loading it onto a truck.

The euros will convert to about $300,000, depending on fluctuating currency rates. That amount varied between $292,000 and $310,000 during the last week.

No specific timeline was given by WES, but Belcher's understanding is that removal will begin as soon as possible.

The money cannot be placed in the general fund, he said, and will likely remain in a maintenance fund for future school building needs.

An additional sum of about $12,000 remains in an open purchase order for the turbine project, said district treasurer Kelly Bentley. That brings the total to more than $312,000 of the $400,000 of school district money that was used in the project.

The turbine was in operation for about 27 months starting in late winter, 2011, but during many of those months the equipment was out of service due to malfunctions. In the few months that it did produce power, the district saved nearly $40,000 in electrical costs and in credit through the sale of electricity.

The $1.1 million project was funded through a $200,000 Ohio Department of Development grant, $486,953 in funds left over from the school building project, and $399,047 of school district funds.

"We're just finalizing one part this process at this time," Belcher said. "This isn't over with yet. There were many people involved in the project."

Belcher said the driving force at this time is to recover the funds invested by the school.

During the construction of Fayette's new school, Kent Buehrer of the Buehrer Group architectural firm, noted the strong winds that blew across the school property and he told school superintendent Russ Griggs that the site would make an excellent location for a wind turbine. Griggs liked the idea and began investigating financing options.

The turbine was installed in late 2010 and came with a five-year warranty. At the dedication ceremony in December 2010, the turbine stood as the largest wind energy facility owned by a public school in Ohio. 

Johan De Leeuw of WES told the audience that the 250 kW turbine would remain on the landscape for at least 20 years and would generate about 40 percent of the school's electrical needs.

The unit functioned correctly until October 2011 when the generator had to be removed by a crane and taken to a shop for an inspection. Several weeks later, the unit was functioning again, but additional intermittent problems emerged during the next year and a half.

The turbine had been in service when a four-foot section of a blade broke off in April 2013 and was found in the woods on the school property. Both blades were then removed from the turbine and since then, haggling has continued over responsibility for the problems.

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