GLOUCESTER – The two wind turbines generating electricity and revenue for the city of Gloucester have been slowed due to mechanical issues in recent weeks — and that has slowed the revenue stream the city expects from the giant alternative energy sources.
Both of the city’s turbines on the grounds of the former Gloucester Engineering property have leaking hydraulics issues, said Sumul Shah, who works with Solaya Energy of Stoneham and manages maintenance and repairs for the turbines for Equity Partners LLC, the city’s partner in the now six-year-old project.
“When there’s a hydraulics leak, the systems shuts off, so somebody has to go up (the tower) and turn it back on,” Shah said Thursday.
He acknowledged that one turbine had been shut down in January due to a blown circuit board that had to be replaced before restarting in February. But the more recent shutdowns have been to repair the leaks — and those leaks involving the city’s turbines, which each rise 256 feet above Blackburn Industrial Park and boast rotors 295 feet in diameter, are leaking dollars for the city.
After budgeting $355,000 in revenues from the turbines in fiscal 2016, the city wound up drawing in $326,439.39, according to figures provided by city Auditor Kenny Costa, and then, after projecting $325,000 for fiscal 2017, the city saw its actual revenue come in instead at $256,381.
Now, even after scaling back its budgeted revenue projections for the current fiscal year, the city may once again come up short.
This year, Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and Chief of Administration James Destino lowered their budgeted expectations again — projecting $300,000 for the 12-month period that runs through June 30. But, as of Feb. 16, the city had taken in just over $150,456, after seeing its monthly revenues fall from $35,000 in December to just $23,000 in January, with $17,000 logged heading into final 12 days of February, auditor’s records show.
“Clearly, it’s not trending the right way,” Costa said Thursday. “Hopefully, the revenues will improve.”
John Dunn, the city’s treasurer and chief financial officer, noted that several factors come into play when evaluating the success of the turbines, and some are far beyond the city’s control.
“No. 1 is the amount of wind we get,” Dunn said. “Second is the rate at which the electricity is reimbursed — which can fluctuate.”
Under terms of the 25-year power purchase agreement between the city and Equity Partners, Equity — which footed the full $10 million cost of building and installing the two turbines — sells the power generated to National Grid. The city then gets a share of National Grid’s payment to Equity, based on the power produced and other factors.
“But (factor) No. 3 is the amount of time the machines themselves are up and running,” Dunn conceded. “They have mechanical failures, but (while) some of them are just switching gears at the bottom of the pole, others are high on the pole. Those fixes are not so easy.”
The city is not alone in dealing with issues involving the Blackburn turbines. The largest of the three — the 492-foot behemoth owned and operated by Applied Materials/Varian Semiconductor Associates toward the rear of the park — has also not spun for several weeks after being shut down for months in parts of 2016 and 2017. Applied officials in California did not return calls seeking an explanation or comment on that turbine’s latest status Thursday.
Solaya’s Shah said his company has crews on the ground working to repair the leaks keeping at least one of the city’s turbines from fulfilling its purpose. The city is also budgeted to take in $78,075 in in-lieu-of tax payments from Equity this year, within a few dollars of its payments for the last three years. But the electricity revenues have continued to fall short of the annual $450,000 projected by then-Mayor Carolyn Kirk and Equity officials when the turbines were installed in December late 2012.
“We know continuing to repair leaks is not the best long-term situation,” Shah said. “Long-term, we’re going to have to again replace some parts. But right now, we’ve been addressing the leaks as they come to get (the turbines consistently) running again.”