By DAVID GREEN
Fayette's school wind turbine has produced many good reports of electricity created since it went into service in late winter 2011, but along with the cost savings have come many days of down time when various problems emerged.
The most serious outage yet occurred overnight April 10 when a four-foot portion of one blade broke off. The fiberglass covering the foam-core blade peeled back and pieces were found in the woods on the school property after they were carried by the wind.
The turbine wasn't in operation when the accident occurred, said Fayette superintendent Erik Belcher, although the record of operation shows that the turbine had recently turned itself out of the wind—a safety feature built into the design of the turbine. There was no indication of an unusual wind condition, Belcher added. An alarm earlier in the day had taken the turbine out of operation and the manufacturer advised leaving it out of service for the night.
Since then, the manufacturer had the twin blades taken down and they remain on the school property. An engineer from the Netherlands-based WES (Wind Energy Solutions) visited the site, along with the contractor, but after three weeks, no determination has been made about the cause. A mechanical failure would place the liability with the manufacturer; an "act of God" would make the school's insurer responsible for replacement.
WES has several turbines installed in locations around the world, and a company representative told Belcher that this situation has not been experienced before.
"My first concern is with the safety of students," Belcher said in reference to putting the unit back into operation. "I need 100 percent assurance that it won't happen again."
On the other hand, he said, the amount of time the turbine has been out of service has been very frustrating and if it were to be replaced, he would want a more stable operation. Belcher said he understands why the district was interested in obtaining a turbine, but he's not seeing the benefits.
The 250 kW turbine is classified as medium size and was expected to provide about 40 percent of the school's electrical needs.
“We have seen a cost savings,” Belcher said, “but not nearly the projections shared with us from the beginning.”
The $1.1 million project was funded through a grant, state funding and money remaining from construction of the new school—money that would otherwise have been returned to the state's school building fund.