SACO – The wind turbine in Saco has been shut off since this summer and prospects for getting it operating effectively again are not optimistic, according to Ward 7 City Councilor Nathan Johnston.
“In July, I informed council that we had to implement the safety shutoff due to its need for repair,” City Administrator Kevin Sutherland wrote in a memo published Nov. 16. “The cost of repair is beyond the city administrator’s spending authority and is not part of the city budget for 2016- 2017.”
“The city does not know the reason the turbine does not function,” Johnston wrote in an email. “In order to find out they would have to hire LEI (Larkin Enterprises, Inc., a business based in Lincoln that does maintenance work on turbines) . . . to inspect it. In the past this has cost as much as $3,000.”
“It doesn’t run,” said Energy Committee Chairman Howard Carter. “We just ended up shutting it off because it uses electricity just sitting there.”
According to Carter, the turbine was shut off in May and the Energy Committee first discussed it in June.
Councilors Johnston and Eric Cote are investigating solutions, according to Sutherland’s memo. Johnston’s attitude is determined but realistic.
“I remain committed to ensuring we exhaust every possibility before abandoning the wind turbine,” Johnston wrote. “To do otherwise would send a poor message about our commitment to alternative energy in the city of Saco.”
The Courier last reported on the turbine in the May 23, 2013 issue when it needed repair because of an oil leak. At that time the repairs were done by LEI.
On top of the expense to evaluate the problem, Johnston said, the island’s turbine presents its own special difficulties.
“There are companies that do wind turbine retrofits to update controls and other components to make older models more efficient,” Johnston wrote. “The issue I have run into is that our model is relatively unknown and most companies that have experience with retrofits are overseas.”
“The other issue,” Johnston continued, “is most retrofit companies are looking to do ‘wind farms’ with multiple units, not a single turbine.”
In the end, Johnston said repairs may not be justified.
“This turbine has never performed as expected,” Johnston wrote, “and has continually cost more to maintain than it has put out in electricity (it produces roughly $1,426 in electricity (annually) and (costs) $1,500 or so to maintain a year.)”
“I don’t want to give off an impression that it hasn’t been a ‘lemon’,” Johnston added.
Johnston, along with Cote, is a council liaison to the city’s 19-member Energy and Sustainability Committee. He said the committee is having discussions about what to do.
“If a solution is not found or does not make economical sense to pursue, the wind turbine will likely be sold and removed,” Johnston wrote. “The Energy Committee has agreed to wait till the new year to make any decision on what the future of the wind turbine will be.”
“I could go either way on it,” Carter said. “It does show a good symbol for the city in its energy type things, but, if it doesn’t run, it isn’t really setting a good example I guess.”